Many things change us, but few as profoundly as birth and death. Last summer was to be a season of both for me. I thought, at 40 years old, that I had seen and experienced just enough of life to NOT be knocked off my feet by it.
I would have been wrong.
On July 25th, 2015 I got the phone call that my dad had suddenly passed away. He wasn’t sick. I had just spent a week in Florida with him 2 weeks prior, kissed him on the cheek when we left and told him I’d see him back in Tennessee. I insisted, much to his dismay, on one more photo with him and my mom. Man I’m glad I did. It would be my last.
The next few days were such a blur. My siblings and I did the best we could to figure out life insurance policies, death benefits, social security, and the list goes on and on. We felt like children, trying to do incredibly grown up things. My dad hadn’t prepared for death, so we did the best we could to pick up the pieces. Planning a funeral is NOT for the feint of heart. My 3 siblings, my mom and I found ourselves in the funeral home, just hours after finding out my daddy was gone, trying to pick out a burial plot, a casket, a vault, flowers, plan a service- oh my GOSH, even now just thinking about it makes me nauseous. We all looked like deer caught in the headlights; clueless, and we absolutely were.
We managed to put a funeral together and surprisingly it was perfect. It was a beautiful tribute to our daddy.
2 days after we buried daddy, my mom had her second major stroke, and 2 days after that she fell and hit her head causing a subdural hematoma. She was in ICU for a week, and hospitalized for another almost 3.
During the 3 weeks following daddy’s death, while momma was in the hospital, my sweet father in law was finally loosing his 3 year battle with cancer; so while i stayed in Nashville with my mom, David headed down to Atlanta to be with Mack. We spent the majority of that summer in different cities.
It was in the final hours of Mack’s extraordinary life that we got the call we’d been waiting 7 years for; there was a baby boy, born a month premature, in a hospital in Reno, Nevada, and he was ours if we wanted him.
But I need to back up a minute.
Our struggle with infertility has been no secret. Our desire to expand our family has also been no secret. Back in December of 2014, while we were back in the States for what would be Mack’s last Christmas, through a set of extraordinary circumstances, the financial resources for us to adopt became available, and so we began the long process.
The process of adoption is arduous and painful at best when you are american residents, residing IN America. The process becomes ALMOST impossible, as non-military American citizens living abroad. None the less, my momma’s heart was committed to making it happen, and so by May, 2015, we were “paper ready”. The agency we chose to adopt through was suggested by the social worker who did our home study, who is also one of the world renown experts in the field of adoptions for Americans living abroad.
The way our particular agency works, is that when a birth mom comes through their doors and definitively decides to adopt out her child, every waiting family has access to a detailed profile on that birth mom. The waiting family then has 5 days to decide to submit their profile for consideration to that particular birth mom. The birth mom then gets to choose from the waiting families who submitted their profile, a first, second and third choice.
Since we had become paper ready in May, we had chosen to submit our profile to every single birth mom that had come through the agency. Without exception.
Until Atticus’s birth mom.
Her profile came up and to say it was complicated would be an understatement.
When we filled out our application, we stated that we were open to either gender, any race, any drug use, and mild medical issues.
Atticus’s birth mom was addicted to crystal meth.
She was incarcerated during the middle 5 months of her pregnancy, and so she wasn’t able to get to her drug of choice during that time, but the first and last trimesters, she admitted to doing meth 3 times a week. She also smoked around 10 cigarettes a day, but really, who the heck cares about that when she’s been doing meth.
All of the other intricacies of her profile were relatively insignificant in light of her addiction.
The thing i THOUGHT was the best part of our adoption agency, quickly became a private hell for us.
The ability to CHOOSE a birth mom.
Who were WE to think that we couldn’t love a child who might have special needs because of drug exposure in utero. Who were WE to think that God might not call us SPECIFICALLY to that very child. Who were WE to say no to any baby. We were fairly well acquainted with a God who calls people to really hard things. We were in the middle of some of those very things.
We couldn’t do it. We couldn’t say no to a baby.
SO- we did what we have done a thousand times over the last 19 years when we needed some Godly wisdom, we called Mack and Pattie.
And wisdom we got. It was Pattie who said to us, “Let’s not ask the Lord if this is our baby, let’s ask Him instead if we are his family.”
After a lot more discussion and prayer, David and I decided to not submit our profile to this birth mom. We ultimately felt like there was probably another family who would be better equipped than us financially with greater access to medical resources if he had any special needs. We were after all, missionaries, living abroad with limited financial resources and limited access to medical resources.
And we closed that chapter. Or so we thought.
Until 2 weeks later, when we saw another birth mom profile that look remarkably like the one we had said no to a few weeks prior.
David and I were in different states at the time, so I phoned him and asked him if he had seen the profile. He said no, but he quickly pulled it up on line, and agreed that it HAD to be the same birth mom who’s case had closed a few weeks prior. So, I told him I would call the agency and find out the details.
It turns out that it WAS the same birth mom. She had chosen a waiting family, but after further conversations, the waiting family had decided that the birth mom wanted more openness that they were comfortable with, so they told the birth mom they would not be able to parent this child.
The birth mom had made a second and a third choice, but when her first choice fell through, she told the agency that she was not in love with her second nor her third choice and would like the opportunity to resubmit her profile to all the waiting families and see if there were any new ones who chose to submit their profile.
The agency’s number one goal, is to find the perfect waiting family for every birth mom, one that she loves, and so to that end, they resubmitted her profile to all waiting families.
David and I spoke and realized we was no real discussion to be had. It was as if the Lord said to me in that moment, “You didn’t hear Me the first time, but this one’s yours.”
Absolute certainty, though, is not a luxury many adoptive parents have at this stage of the process, but we DID submit our profile. On August 9th.
On August 13th we got an email that, per normal procedure, the agency was setting up a conference call for all interested waiting families to ask any questions they might have of the social worker assigned to this birth moms case.
On August 14th, we were celebrating David’s 40th birthday with dear friends when we participated in the conference call where our questions were answered, and where we discovered that her drug use was more significant than previously suspected. Since the birth mom had been released from prison, she had admitted to continuing to do meth, probably recently.
She was due in one month.
On August 19th we received an email from the agency stating that birth mom C had seen our profile and was very interested in having a further conversation with us, would we be willing to have a conference call with her next week? Again, David was in Atlanta at his father’s deathbed and I was in the hospital with my mom, so via phone conversation we decided we would be willing to talk with her more. We gave the social worker some dates when we would be available, and she said she would check with the birth mom and get back with us.
During this time, Mack had become bed ridden and hospice was taking care of him in their home. David and his mom were at his bedside constantly. His breathing had become so labored, and he hadn’t eaten or drank anything in days. We were all preparing ourselves, as best one can, for his home going.
Later that night, at 1:44 AM on August 20th, while I was lying awake in the hospital room beside my mom, and David was lying in an upstairs room in his parents house waiting for his father to die, we received another email from our adoption agency saying that birth mom C had gone into labor and was dilated to 6 centimeters. She told the social worker that she really liked us and she wanted us to fly to Reno, NV ASAP and adopt this baby boy.
I read the email at least 10 times before it registered. Then- i crept into the hospital hallway and called David.
I can not even begin to tell you what exactly was said in that conversation. Neither of us had slept much in days, and the magnitude of such a decision was not lost on us, but we didn’t have the luxury of waiting until we were well rested and in the same room to have this conversation.
This conversation demanded an answer immediately.
Never, in 21 years of knowing my husband, have I seen (or heard, rather) my husband more uncertain, or scared to make a decision. I told him right away that I felt like this baby was ours, but that one person’s opinion on this particular matter wasn’t good enough. We had to either be both in, or we were both out. This was a child’s life we were talking about. I wasn’t interested in the least in convincing him that this was our baby. He needed to know that all on his own.
I told him on the phone that the wisdom he needed was from his mom and dad. I encouraged him to go talk to his mom. Understandably, he was reluctant to intrude on the precious little time his mom had left with his dad to ask what her opinion was.
Hours went by with only a few text messages exchanged between the 2 of us, and still no decision made.
6:00 am in Atlanta, Georgia, David got out of bed and slowly made his was downstairs to his dad’s bedside. His mom had been there all night long, and was distraught because Mack hadn’t eaten or drank in days and she was beginning to fear he was truly suffering. She said to David “I can’t figure out why he won’t go home to be with Jesus, it’s like he’s waiting on something.” To which David replied “Well mom, there was a baby boy, born a month premature in Reno, Nevada, and his birth mom wants US to come get this baby boy and adopt him”
So Pattie, holding Mack’s hand whispered, “Is this what you’ve been waiting on Mack? Is this our grand baby?”
And for the first time in 2 days Mack tried to sit up and struggled to get Pattie’s attention.
With tears rolling down her cheeks, she looked at her son and said “I think you need to get on a plane and go get our grandson.”
At this point David began to make travel arrangements, for me from Nashville, for he and Ruby Love from Atlanta. He was able to get me a flight out pretty easily, but wasn’t able to get a flight out until the next day for he and Love.
While I was in the air, headed to meet our son for the first time, David received a text message from the social worker with a picture of Atticus and birth details. David took the picture on his phone down to his daddy and held it close to Mack’s face and whispered through tears, “Dad, meet your grandson.”
And for the first time in 3 days, Mack opened his eyes and looked right at his grandson, and then he closed his eyes for the last time. Just a couple of hours later, Mack went to heaven.
He was waiting on his grandson.
My dad never got to see Atticus, but I believe he knows about him now.
The events of a year ago are truly extraordinary. Some days I don’t know how we survived, except that we had to. We now had a 7 year old and a newborn depending on it.
The year since then has been a blur. A blur of tears, and laughter, and a severe lack of sleep.
Nothing can prepare you for the simultaneous occurrence of both life and death. It is SUCH a surreal experience. The pain of loss and death does not eclipse the pure joy of becoming a parent again after 7 years of waiting, nor does the sheer joy of new life cancel out the heartbreak of such profound loss. They CAN in fact, BOTH exist simultaneously inside the same person, and they have inside both David and myself now for the last year.
This is certainly not the story I thought I was going to tell when I sat down at the computer today. But now that I think about it, I can’t think of a more beautiful way to honor my daddy, than to tell the story of his grandson’s life.
Happy heaven day, Daddy! Not a day goes by that I don’t miss you.