When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

January 27, 2010

August 20, 2007 Journal Entry and Chapter 6


June 2007

August 20, 2007.  Today is a triumph, a blue sky day in brilliant contrast to the banging, gray days that Pat and I have learned to accommodate.  I lose myself in a daydream where my son enjoys a regular existence; where everyday I feel like the mother I long to be rather than the commandant I have become, raising children with patience, reason and humor, raising Sophie and Peter the way I was raised.  Yesterday Peter gouged his nose for the second time in three days and made himself vomit at breakfast.  Hardly a blue sky day.  But something changed in the night.  His brain is working today in a way that makes sense.  Peter is trying and wants to have a good day.  He announces this when he jumps into our bed for a rare snuggle before breakfast.  Later he tells me in his deadpan voice that he’s not going to “make bleeding” and then later still, that he’s not going to say “butt or stupid or kill”.  Peter thinks 100% out loud and so I am privy to hearing what should be his internal dialogue.  He is proud of himself, and I am proud of him too.  He wants to be like this every day, I know that now, but his better brain days come in unpredictable waves, in biochemical spurts that can’t be summoned at will.  I take my cue from Peter and treat the day as the gift that it is.  My son tells me he loves me and I can feel myself beam.  I waited more than a year to hear this and it’s never a phrase that rolls easily from his lips.  Outside the day is cool and rainy but inside, for now, the sky is blue.

Chapter 6:  Oh Yeah (The Domestic Debacle)

In the midst of our frenetic effort to complete the additional requirements necessary to receive our travel date, the sacred day on the calendar when we would fly to Russia and hold Ben for the first time, we received a phone call that stopped us dead in our tracks.  I had been so consumed with the new round of paperwork that I had forgotten about the little seed we’d planted a few months earlier.  I didn’t even recognize the name of the caller when I answered the phone.

Around the same time we signed up for the international adoption meeting in Manhattan, we spread the odds of winning the adoption game by also getting ourselves on a domestic list.  We put together an adoption package complete with photos, personal histories, and a dear birth mother letter.  We filled out numerous questionnaires in which we indicated our desire to adopt a Caucasian baby through closed adoption.  The birth mother needed to be free of alcohol, tobacco and drugs from conception through delivery. Because most birth mothers who contemplate adoption prefer an open arrangement, which allows some contact and periodic updates, we knew our chances of being picked were slim.  The fact that we also would accept nothing less than a substance-free pregnancy closed the door even further.  Be prepared, we were told, to wait two to three years, possibly much longer.

That was fine with us.  We were planning to adopt from Russia.  We’d be ready if and when a domestic opportunity arose to help complete our family.  If not, then Pat and I would either be content with our one child or we would return to Russia to adopt a second baby.  Our plan read so logically on paper.  But then the phone rang.  A birth mother had picked us.  She was due in three weeks and preferred a closed (meaning no future contact) adoption.  The baby, a boy, was already over six pounds and due July Fourth.   She requested that we be with her in Tampa, Florida, for the delivery.

In the few beats it took before my brain aligned with this unexpected news, the qualifiers began popping from the phone like backyard fireworks.  The birth mother had grappled with substance abuse in the past: cocaine, marijuana and alcohol, but swears she’s been clean for nearly a year.  She is 38 years old and on her fifth pregnancy.  Yes, all her other babies were given up for adoption.  The agency placed them all and each continues to thrive.  The birth mother knows who the father is but won’t say.  The agency is in the process of investigating this issue so they can obtain the necessary paternal releases.   Not to worry, these things have a way of working themselves out.  To sweeten the pot, the woman on the phone whispers conspiratorially that the birth mother is beautiful and so are the four other children.  And best of all: even though we were in the midst of planning our first trip to Birobidzhan to meet Ben, a trip which Adopt Through Us was predicting would take place in mid to late July, and no matter there were hundreds of unanswered questions regarding this birth mother, we needed to make a decision within 24 hours.

My poor husband nearly collapsed when I told him.  I really had wanted to experience mothering a newborn, a wish he didn’t passionately share but was willing to support and respect.  He had already fathered three newborn babies, after all, and I loved him for the selflessness of wanting me to have this opportunity even though he must have dreaded the sleepless drudgery it entailed.  In his mid-fifties, the prospect of going to Russia for Ben was daunting enough.  But we both wanted our new son to have a sibling.  For me there was never any doubt, but Pat had not felt similarly until a NYC cab ride with his mother helped reorient his thinking.  During a drowsy late night talk, he shared with me how he had been listening to her melancholy reminiscences about growing up as an only child and realized he didn’t want this for his son.  And as it turned out, a sibling for Ben was landing in our lap, scheduled to drop in on the world, and possibly our lives, in a few short weeks.  Never mind I was still in a walking cast and facing another surgery in late summer to remove an assortment of hardware in my lower leg from the ski accident three months earlier.  We would find a way.

The news had an intoxicating effect, despite the poor timing and my hobbled condition.  Pat walked around with his eyes bulging in disbelief and I found myself giggling like a schoolgirl.  However, we knew this was no time to behave like love crazed teenagers or better yet, a couple of geriatrics who just won the lottery and decided to buy a hacienda in Costa Rica, sight unseen.  To slow ourselves down and force a more rational consideration of the risks (such as history of drug use) and impossible logistics of the situation, we hastily scribbled a list of questions and criteria that we then ranked in order of priority.  Making sure we did nothing to jeopardize the timely adoption of Ben was at the top of our list.  In our hearts and minds and every other cell of our bodies he was already our son.  The thought of Ben wasting away in some Dickensian institution a minute more than necessary was simply unacceptable.  Obtaining empirical proof that the birth mother wasn’t using drugs or drinking was next.  Finding the father was third.  Figuring out how we could fly to Tampa for the birth, accept temporary custody during the mandatory waiting period under Florida law (knowing this time period would likely overlap with our expected Russian travel date), leave the baby in the care of one of my siblings (probably my sister Patty who would have to come to Tampa from Atlanta and stay there with the baby in the home of one of my brothers, both of whom live in the area, because the baby would not be allowed to leave the State of Florida), fly to Russia, meet and confirm that we wanted to adopt Ben, fly back from Russia and return to Tampa, appear in Florida court to finalize the domestic adoption, fly back to New York with the baby, and then prepare to undertake the entire sequence of events approximately six weeks later when we’d need to travel back to Russia to bring Ben home?  Well, that was number four.  Obviously we decided against prioritizing in order of complexity.

As it turned out, number four on our list was solvable, especially when we pushed back and persuaded the agency that 24 hours was an unreasonable amount of time to determine whether this could work.  We talked to adoption lawyers about temporary custody, the transfer of temporary custody to my sister, getting leave from the court to travel from Tampa to Russia, and a host of other legal gyrations that would be required to accomplish this feat.  My sister Patty would have to take time from her law practice and make arrangements for the care of her own two children (her husband constantly travels), but she would find a way to make this work.  My brother Mark and his wife Paula would set up a temporary nursery in their home in Tampa.  Unfortunately, they had scheduled a two-week trip with their kids to the Grand Canyon more than a year earlier that could not be cancelled or rescheduled.  This meant Patty would be on her own with the baby in Mark’s house once we left for Russia to meet Ben.

The more difficult part was related to the issues the domestic agency assured us would work themselves out.  The birth mother had not come to the agency until very late in her pregnancy and for this reason, the quality of her prenatal care as well as confirmation of her drug and alcohol status could not be determined.  Despite this, the agency continued to assure us that the birth mother was cooperative and willing to undergo any and all drug and alcohol screens.  An emergency appointment for her to see the agency’s obstetrician had been made.  But the appointment was missed, and so was the next one.  We were told she had a fear of taking public transportation, which is why she didn’t make the first appointment.  The next time the agency sent a taxicab but the driver left after fifteen minutes when she failed to come out of the apartment the agency had placed her in and for which we were expected to pay.  A few days passed.  Someone from the adoption agency went over to the apartment and after explaining to the woman that she would not enjoy any of the expected fees or paid expenses if she failed to cooperate with the medical protocol, she agreed to be escorted to the doctor.

My brother Mark is the kind of loud, lumbering guy who in his college and fraternity days used to get thrown out of college football games for drunk and disorderly conduct but who has always had one of the biggest and best hearts on the planet.  He’s an attorney now who represents product manufacturers against claims for liability.  A seasoned litigator with an innate talent for identifying fraud, he was becoming more and more suspicious of the birth mother’s behavior and growing list of ill-disguised excuses.  While the agency was doing its best to corral a difficult client, Mark hatched a more practical, if not extreme, plan.  He offered to send out his private investigator to find out who the birth mother was, the extent of her past (and present) drug use, the name and background of the father, and anything else we wanted to know.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “I promise you, my guy can find out anything.”  Although I didn’t have much experience with this side of Mark, and was a little alarmed to learn he could gather information in this fashion, I was deeply touched by the offer.

Mark & his daughter Haley after winning a family tennis tourney (Blowing Rock, NC, July 2009)

In the meantime, the agency wasn’t making much progress with the birth mother.  She went to the doctor but refused to submit to a drug screen.  The obstetrician did perform a sonogram, however, and was able to confirm the baby was male and probably not due until early August.  Anyone but the most desperate to believe in the fiction of this situation would understand what was happening.  This woman was on drugs, and probably drinking and smoking as well.   She was a professional birth mother who used the 9 months of housing, groceries, medical care, and cash – all part of the private adoption package – to cleanup, rest, and finance the times between pregnancies.

Unlike the wrenching emotions we felt when we turned down the two Russian babies before Ben, Pat and I knew in a matter of days that this was a con and we were the intended victims.  I remember the relief I felt on the morning Pat and I decided over coffee and bagels that neither of us wanted to pursue this “opportunity” a minute longer.  The initial excitement had passed and we had finally sobered up.  That’s not to say, however, that I didn’t feel any regret or disappointment.  I knew there would be no other chance to cradle a newborn, an infant that would be mine to hold and keep from the moment of birth.  But thoughts of Ben, the baby in Birobidzhan we had claimed by name and in our hearts only weeks before, softened this blow and helped obscure thoughts of this latest bungled experience.  He was all we really needed.

The phone rang before we ever had a chance to announce the decision to walk away.  I listened to the adoption agency woman explain that the birth mother had gone into labor overnight as I watched a woodpecker accost the wooden swing that hangs under the large oak in our front yard.  The baby had been born five hours later, and about five weeks premature, with cocaine and marijuana in his bloodstream.  Consistent with Florida law, the state assumed custody and was taking steps to charge the mother with felony child abuse.  Seconds after I hung up the phone, the woodpecker flew away, frustrated with the effort of pecking at an uncooperative, swaying object.  I looked over at Pat, who was smiling wryly.  He knew what I knew.  Topping off our mugs with hot coffee, we went about our business of planning for the day ahead.  A day that was warm, sunny and waiting to be absorbed.  The domestic debacle was over.


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