Blessed with a baby
We'd been waiting only two months when a counselor from the Portland-based Open Adoption and Family Services called to say that a 16-year-old high schooler in Medford, Oregon, had selected us from a pool of about 60 families. Mallory was seven months pregnant and wanted to meet us. Both professional writers, Eric and I had zoomed through the paperwork that some hopeful adoptive parents find daunting—including a "Dear Birth Parent" letter meant to read like a personal ad—and actually enjoyed the required home study. But we never thought we'd be chosen so quickly. In a daze, we drove the 450 miles from Seattle toward this mystery girl.
I don't exactly know what we expected, but she was all we could have hoped for: incredibly poised, funny, sensitive, cautious but clearly willing to try to form an alliance with these two nervous strangers sitting across from her in the local agency office, assaulting her with a photo album full of evidence of their lovely home and healthy lifestyle.
Mallory's mom, Kelly, was the one who really broke the ice. Like me, she's quick to fill awkward silences with a joke. She's also around my age (younger, in fact), and we share a lot of references. Plus, she's stubborn. Kelly's conviction that open adoption would provide her whole family with the best possible outcome helped her overcome her own grief at giving up daily contact with her first grandchild. Once satisfied with Eric and me, she became a rock for all of us.
As day wound into evening, we went to dinner and met Mallory's two brothers and her reluctant dad, who wasn't so sure about this openness thing. (He warmed up over the ensuing weeks, even coming to the hospital after Rebecca's birth, much to Mallory's joy.)
The next morning, standing in a pumpkin patch where we'd gone for an outing, we all agreed to "move forward," as the adoption lingo puts it. We could accept that the birth father had denied paternity and that Mallory didn't want to push the matter. She could deal with the fact that we were older than her own parents. Eric and I drove back home, a single snapshot of a very pregnant Mallory on the disposable camera I'd bought just in case things worked out well enough to deserve recording.
Over the next several weeks, we took turns making that long drive up and down Interstate 5, learning just how delicate a task it is to be truly open. Thanksgiving weekend was particularly nerve-racking. We'd come for a visit, but with less than a month to go until her due date, Mallory was unsure whether she wanted to see us. We were terrified that this meant she was reconsidering her choice, which was her right until she'd sign the adoption papers 48 hours after her daughter's birth. She also announced that she wanted a day alone with the baby after the birth, which sent us further into paroxysms of anxiety. We'll never know whether she just needed some space or whether she had real doubts about us. But we did learn that open adoption also meant dealing with doors that have to be closed.