Fourth Time's A Charm

Scene 1: Half-eaten burger and a side of waffle fries

It’s a Friday in May, and my husband Alex and I are sitting in our car parked at a chain restaurant. “Are we just supposed to go in?” I ask. Alex shrugs, and we walk in. Can the server hear my heart pounding?

“We’re meeting someone,” I say. There’s our adoption coordinator and a girl with an obvious bump. “Hi,” we say awkwardly. We order, and I pick at my salad as we chat about our families, work, vacations, dreams. She’s 19 with a one-year-old daughter, and wants to go to college and own a business someday. She admires my pencil skirt and heels. I wonder if she thinks my brown curls look the mothering part.

In the middle of eating, she puts down her fork. “I want you to have my baby,” she says. Alex and I look at each other, stunned. She gives us an ultrasound photo. I gulp.

On the way home, I chat with the coordinator. “She’s a good lead,” she assures me, “but stay cautious.” What? This woman just told us she wants us to parent her unborn child. A good lead?

A few weeks go by, and Alex and I quickly prepare a nursery. Every day we wonder, is this the baby we’ve been praying for? Is this the answer to the pain and the miscarriage and the cancer?

“You’ll get the baby you’re meant to have,” is our adoption agency’s mantra.

Baby mama and I text frequently. Every time my phone makes a sound, my stomach has butterflies like I’m 13 waiting to hear from my latest crush. I’m so proud of my decision! You’re going to be great parents, she says.

The due date draws closer. One night, I get a text: I think the baby is here, I’m in a lot of pain!

That’s the last we ever heard from her.

Every day, we hope for a message, but every day, silence. After a week, we receive word that she had the baby and decided to parent. We were crushed. But how can we fault a mama who wants to parent her beautiful girl?

Scene 2: Desk lunch, last night’s spaghetti and a coffee-machine espresso

On a July afternoon, my inbox has this message from a work colleague: “Are you still looking to adopt? A friend of a friend of a friend may want to place a newborn.”

Is this the baby we’ve been praying for?

I get the number of the friend of a friend of a friend. I call from my desk at work over lunch.  My stomach in knots, we talk briefly. She has three boys and can’t handle another. Will she work with our agency? Yes.

The days go by, and it’s time for another awkward lunch meeting. We share stories, names. Something feels off, but I can’t put my finger on it.

It’s a week before the birth, and our agency tells us the mama wants one day in the hospital with the baby before we come. It makes them nervous, but they respect her wishes. Oh, and pack a bag for the hospital.

Great! We say.

We never made it to the hospital. The day she spent with the baby, she decided to parent.

Again, how can we fault a mama for wanting to parent her beautiful son?

It hurts, though.

Scene 3: PB&J, nothing sounds good

On a Sunday night in August, I get an email: “A baby girl is in the hospital. The mama wants to place for adoption; her boyfriend thinks the baby is his. They want an adoptive family to take the baby for one week while waiting for a paternity test. If the baby is the boyfriend’s, it goes with him: if not, the baby goes with you. Are you willing to be an adoptive family shown to this couple?”

I was in tears—this is it. This is our baby.

“Y-e-s,” I type.

A few hours later, we receive word: they picked you! Come to the hospital tomorrow to get the baby.

The next morning, we drive two hours to the hospital. We’re sweating as we walk into the hospital room. In the bassinet is a beautiful baby girl.

Stay overnight with baby, then bring her home to wait for the paternity test results, says the adoption coordinator. We’ve never seen anything like this. It really could go either way.

The nurses are pulling for us. They teach us how to feed her and put her in a car seat. We hope she’s yours! they say.

We have one glorious week with baby girl at home. Naturally, we fall in love. Though the weather is unseasonably gracious, we stay holed up inside with baby, binge watching home improvement shows as we feed her tiny bottles of formula. We dub her “Maybe Baby”, since we’re not sure if she’ll stay. We pray every moment. This is the baby we’ve been praying for, right?

On Saturday, I get a text: Maybe Baby is his baby.

How can we fault him for wanting to parent his beautiful girl? But this one really hurts.

Scene 4: A vaguely Southwestern chain restaurant salad, iced tea

On an October afternoon, I get a phone call from the adoption agency. “You’re matched!” It’s with a mom named Mariah.

Alex and I drive a few hours to another chain restaurant. I pick at my nail polish. We don’t speak once we hit the freeway. There’s Mariah, looking barely pregnant and holding a darling dark-haired, six-month-old. She found out about this baby just after birthing her daughter, Lylah. And she doesn’t have the resources to care for another right now, she says, tears streaming down her face. She’s with her boyfriend’s mom, who supports her 100 percent.

We would be honored to be his parents, we say. We share about our families, work, vacations, dreams. She likes my appreciation of Hispanic culture and Spanish to honor his part-Mexican heritage. He’s due February 27. February seems so far away.

A few months later, we meet again. Mariah shares a letter she’s written to her son about why she’s choosing open adoption. It’s beautiful. I cry. She gives me an ultrasound picture. He has lots of dark hair, the ultrasound tech had told her. We work out a plan: visits three times a year. And we’ll send photos and updates often.

She asks about names. “One idea is Ames,” we say. James without the A. “Interesting,” she says. “Another idea is Larson,” we say. “It goes with his sister’s name: Lylah and Larson.” Her eyes light up. Decision made.

We text every few days. How is she feeling? Will he come on Valentine’s Day? Do we have a nursery ready?

I’m so sad, she shares with me over text. I love him so much. But I know it’s the right decision.

Scene 5: Veggie lasagna, kale Caesar salad, and four glasses of wine

Conventional wisdom in adoption circles is to keep things quiet, just in case. We tell some friends, but don’t share much.

Gathered around our dining table one January evening, a friend says to me with eerie accuracy, “I know you’re not sharing details, but I had a dream about your baby. It was a boy, with lots of dark hair. And he was your son.”

I stare into the little white candle flickering in front of me. Is this the baby we’ve been praying for? Could the fourth time be a charm?

Scene 6—Two black coffees, to go

It’s a Sunday morning in February, exactly between my birthday and Alex’s. We’re drinking coffee. I casually glance down at my phone.

It’s Mariah. “I’m in the hospital dilated to a four. They think I’m in labor.”

Alex packs a bag while I pace in circles. We speed to the hospital and join the baby’s grandma and great grandma at her bedside. We hug, once strangers, now family. Great-grandma tells us that she adopted Mariah’s mother, so she understands what it’s like. I’m excited for you to be parents, she says. We hug again, in gratitude.

Mariah announces she’d like me in the room for the birth. I’m astounded. What an incredible gift. Alex waits outside. The doctor breaks her water. Twenty minutes later at 2:19 on 2/19, a perfect little boy comes into the room. I can’t believe my eyes.

Alex rushes in. I feed him his first bottle. Congratulations, say the baby’s grandmother and great grandmother. Alex and I are in shock.

Scene 7: Kung Pao chicken, shrimp fried rice, and crab rangoon

It’s our second night in the hospital. The past days were full of photos and visits from Mariah’s family. Larson meets his birth sister, who gives him open-mouthed kisses. He’s held by his great grandparents and grandma. Mariah and I take a photo with Larson, me holding his head, her holding his feet. Before we take the photos she asks to borrow my makeup, and I powder her nose as she perches on the edge of the toilet. Alex and I have been staying in a room two doors down. Every waking moment we spend with Mariah and Larson, every sleeping moment tending to the baby.

The birth certificate lady comes. What’s his middle name? Alex and I look at Mariah: Should it be something with an M, for Mariah? A family name?

Didn’t you like Ames? asks Mariah.

Larson Ames. It’s perfect.

We order Chinese takeout, making the hospital room smell of fried rice and crab rangoon. It’s Larson’s first dinner and movie. We watch Under the Tuscan Sun. Mariah is watching, but it’s obvious she’s grieving, thinking about saying goodbye.

Scene 8: Stash of formula bottles, hospital cafeteria lunch gone blissfully cold

Alex and I are sitting in our hospital room alone, watching the clock’s hands tick by each second with painful precision. Larson coos from the bassinet. We’d been asked to leave Mariah alone in her room with the lawyer, her eyes sorrowful and her hair in the thick braid she’d asked me to put in the night before. My stomach butterflies are at epic proportions. Mariah said she was ready to sign the adoption papers, but was she? What if she put the pen down at the last second, unable to place her son’s future in the hands of another family?

My underarms are getting uncomfortably sweaty. After what seems like an eternity, there’s a knock at the door. It’s the social worker. “I’m here with the lawyer. We have some papers for you to sign.”

We look at each other. “That’s right. You’re parents!”

After all the waiting and praying and crying and uncertainty, Mariah had given us the greatest gift. And all that waiting, praying, crying, and uncertainty makes this answer to prayer all the sweeter.

This was the baby we were meant to have.

Our son: Larson.

Guest post written by Sonja Overhiser. Sonja is an author, recipe developer, podcast host, and healthy and sustainable food advocate. Along with her husband Alex, she is creator of the A Couple Cooks website, a collection of whole foods recipes and inspiration for healthy and sustainable eating. She is the co-host of the A Couple Cooks Podcast, a show that features conversations with the freshest voices in food, including authors, farmers, and celebrity chefs from Mario Batali to Rick Bayless. Her work has been featured in national online and print publications, and she develops recipes for national brands including ALDI, Sub-Zero, Muir Glen, and Dole. Sonja loves a good cup of coffee, trips to the farmer’s market, and traveling the world with her better half. She is the author of Pretty Simple Cooking, a cookbook that will release in February 2018 (Da Capo Press).  

Photo of baby Larson by Kelley Jordan Photography.