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When I was thirty-something and single back in the early seventies and realized that adoption was probably going to be the only way I'd ever have the family I had dreamed of all my life, I didn't know where to turn. I couldn't pick up a magazine and read personal success stories about adoption, and the Internet did not yet exist. In fact, back then I didn't even know anyone who was adopted or who had adopted. As a teacher in the public school system, I occasionally heard whispers among my colleagues about some child or another in one of our classes whose academic or behavioral problems were probably because (had I heard?) he was adopted. In many circles, the stigma of adoption was as shameful as any scarlet "A" ever worn. But I wanted someone to call me mom, and I would have given my eyeteeth to have been able to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with anyone who could have given me some hope and direction.
How my life has changed since then! For two and a half decades, adoption and parenthood have defined my life and been my most rewarding journey. I have adopted seven children and raised nine. Six are newly independent, self-supporting, college-educated, career-minded young adults. Three are still in high school and are looking forward with nervous excitement to the choices they must soon make.
I never saw myself as a pioneer when I decided to adopt as a single parent. When something feels right I trust my instinct, knowing that things have a way of working out for the best. Imagine my surprise when I learned sometime after the arrival of my second child in 1979 that there were fewer than one hundred agency-basedadoptions by single parents in this country. Reading this staggering statistic in the New York Times, I wondered if I'd been counted twice. Things have certainly changed.
My income from teaching supported us, and we all supported one another in the growing years. We tried to approach each day with a feeling of abundance rather than a sense of deprivation. We lived in an affluent area, where it would have been easy to look at life as a glass half empty, but I tried hard to point out to my family that that sort of thinking was a choice and probably not a very good way to approach things. I remember a discussion we had around the dinner table one night on that very topic. The general consensus was that although many of my kids' friends had a good deal more than they did in terms of material things, there were also many who had less. I remember Emilie adding, "but none of them know how to be as responsible as we are, Mom. Were tops at that!" She was right; they certainly were.
Consider this, for example. In complete secrecy, my kids threw a surprise (yes, I really was surprised) fiftieth birthday party for me five years ago. They had been planning it for over a year, right down to the engraved invitations (and I thought I knew everything that went on at home). In the four hours that Alison, Abby, and I were out of the house attending Meredith's dance recital, the remaining six transformed our backyard for the celebration. They set up an enormous wedding tent, fifteen tables, 140 chairs, and badminton, volleyball, and basketball courts. They orchestrated a cocktail hour and a five-course, sit-down dinner for over a hundred guests--all of whom were already in place and waiting patiently for me, the guest of honor, to come home. Ben, then a high school senior and my first child, gave a champagne toast. I cried, and everyone cheered.
We have shared love, secrets, advice, pain, and prayers in our journey as a family. And although in many ways its been harder than I ever imagined it could be, the rewards have also been greater than I ever dreamed. Was it worth it? Yes--every single step, every single minute. Ups and downs, laughter and tears. Together we've opened doors I never knew existed. We've done it all.
Like every other major, life-changing choice I've made in life, the decision to have a child was not an easy one to make. I did not get married until my late thirties, and I had never felt a burning desire to get pregnant. Actually, the joke between me and my husband, Dennis, was that if I happened to become pregnant, he would have to carry the child for the last trimester. But, truthfully, I never felt that I had to have that biological connection to be a good mother.
I thrived on a wild and very busy career path for almost two decades, and somehow I never had the inclination, opportunity, or time to have children. I started my own tiny public relations and marketing company, literally on my dining room table, and it was my baby. But by the time I turned forty, I began to evaluate my life a bit more deeply. Although I still loved to travel, the other perks of my career, such as eating at fabulous restaurants, shopping, and indulging in stress-busting massages, were not as important to me as they once had been. The plight of the thousands of children warehoused in Romania was a big news story at the time, and Dennis and I were drawn to the heart-wrenching images of those precious babies abandoned in grim orphanages in a country in turmoil. We mentioned the word adoption to each other more than once, but before we knew it another year had gone flying by.
Then one day my father, who had been completely healthy, suffered a major cardiac aneurysm, and things changed abruptly for me. As our family gathered around his hospital bed, encouraging--almost willing--him to survive his surgery, I realized that I didn't want this love and strong bond to end with Dennis and me.
My father died five weeks later. The next morning I had breakfast with a woman who had adopted her beautiful four-year-old girl, Emily, from Korea when she was four months old. She gave me a tattered copy of the New York Times Sunday magazine that featured a story on Chinese adoption. I took one look at that baby's beautiful face and knew that China was where we should go to find our child.
Although we had been ambivalent about becoming parents, Dennis and I nonetheless had talked about favorite names--Alexander for a boy and Alexandra for a girl. Once firm in our decision to adopt from China, Alexandra Willa, in loving memory of my father William, became our focus long before we even had a formal referral with birthdate and photo. Eager to move forward once we made up our minds, we were through the paperwork and on a plane to China seven months later.
Once there, the reality of our decision hit me. With very little preparation, no real identification with Alex's country or culture, and no time to bond, I suddenly had a three-month-old infant placed in my arms. All around us new parents were crying with joy, while I was thinking, "Oh my God! What have I done?" Suffering physically already from possible food poisoning, the flu, or maybe just severe stress, my body and mind rebelled at all I was doing and serious second thoughts entered my mind. Even following our very shaky twenty-four-hour trip back to Los Angeles, I was still not sure if I was ready to be a mother.
After three months of sleepless nights and exhausted days, I was able to work through my fears, and I began to realize how my daughter had added a new dimension to our lives. Alex has brought me more joy, and sometimes greater pain, than I ever knew I could endure. I frequently think about our trip to China and the morning our group of twenty-two met for breakfast the day after receiving our daughters. I remember remarking how amazing it was that those eleven tiny beings could turn a group of middle-aged professionals into baby-talking, proud-as-punch parents.
For me this book has been a work in progress for the last three years. It began when I returned from China and met so many other people who, like Dennis and me, had finally become parents. While researching this book, Cindy and I also found many other wonderful and strong families who deeply felt the need to bring another child or children into their lives to make their family circle complete. Although we had taken many different paths to bring children into our lives, our journeys were in many ways the same. And each of us learned valuable lessons along the way.
The desire to become parents has never been so visible, anticipated, or talked about as it is today. It is difficult to pick up a woman's magazine, celebrity newspaper, or newsmagazine and not find a story about proud new parents, a heartwarming adoption, or the heartbreak of insurmountable infertility. Never have there been so many ways to become parents as there are today. Both domestic and international adoptions are dramatically on the rise, and high-tech options, from in vitro fertilization to surrogacy are meeting with increased success.
The stories in this collection have been organized into four sections that roughly parallel the stages of growth in families. Part One, In the Beginning, describes families flush with the excitement of their decision to pursue an alternative approach to parenthood. We all know of somebody in this situation, whether they are coming to terms with a real sense of loss or feeling pressured by the reality that time may be running out for them. For these people it is parenthood now--or possibly never.
Part Two, The Wonder Years, tells the stories of families that have been together a little longer and are settling in to their new roles and responsibilities. The newness of their experience is fading, and as their family life widens to include activities such as play groups, preschool, day care, and outings, these parents often have to deal with questions--from their children and from others--about how they came to be a family. And sometimes they confront prejudice. What was once exclusively the parents story is now the child's story as well. How it shall be shared, and with whom, becomes a concern.
There is a lot going on in the families that contribute their stories to Part Three, In the Parenting Trenches, which cover the years just before and during adolescence. These resilient parents know when to stand firm and when to bend. They appear comfortable with the choices they have made and are committed to the growth of all family members. They know how to play and have fun together, too. Their capacity for optimism, honesty, resourcefulness, and perseverance in the face of daily challenges appears boundless. At the heart of their success is the way they convey their acceptance and understanding to their children while stressing their core values.
Are you curious about the long-range outcomes of decisions to adopt or create a family with the help of medical technology? Part Four, Pioneer Wisdom, lets you glimpse the future through stories told by those who have already lived out those decisions. Four adoptive families, their children now grown, talk about their experiences at a time when adoption was a less obvious choice and there was little support available to help them walk through the experience. An adult adoptee shares her views on the impact of transracial adoption on lives. Finally, a single mother, the first to be artificially inseminated in her state over twenty years ago, speaks to the strength of her desire to give birth, measured against the prejudice and hostility of her community. Few others have as many years behind them to address this viewpoint from a distance. We think you will find the shared wisdom of these contributors reassuring and thought-provoking.
Without a doubt, the most common solutions to the problem of infertility--adoption and hi-tech medical intervention--are making parenthood possible for more people than ever before. Adoption and infertility issues are out of the closet and discussed openly in the media. There are support groups for those grieving from infertility, for others participating in ever-newer fertility treatments, and for those exploring adoption options. Information is available in abundance with the click of a mouse and a quick jump on the Internet. Age, marital status, gender, and lifestyle no longer limit ones opportunity to set out on the pathway to parenthood.
Hearing each new story has enriched our own understanding of the ongoing and continually challenging process of creating a family. We hope we have created a book that will be read and enjoyed by all, whether or not all of our readers are directly connected to adoption or the infertility struggle. We want Parents at Last to serve as an inspiration and a guide to those who cannot or chose not to create a family in the traditional way, as well as to the extended families and friends from whom they draw support.
In the Beginning
From Infertility to Adoption
Jay and Brook S. Dougherty
It Took Three to Make a Family
Cheryl and Steve Clifford
Francis Thaddeus Sefchik, Colonel USAF, Ret.
Rob and Laura Mains
Lisa and Greg Astrovich
A Family of Four
Tom and Yolande Gasbeck
It Took a Village
Fred Gohl and Traci Shahan-Gohl
Mimi and Grandpa
Robert and Evelyne McNamara
Pass the Word
Tom and Betsy Cunneff
From We to Three
Robyn and Scott Cawood
The Wonder Years
Suzzanne Douglas and Roy Cobb
My Two Children from China
Who Is My Father?
A Deep Capacity for Love
Jim and Jamie Nesmith
Fulfilling Their Destiny
LeVar and Stephanie Burton
A Small Happiness
The Lost Boys
Eric and Greg Wolfson-Sagot
Kudos to the Coach!
In the Parenting Trenches
Naomi's Story: A Tale of Commitment
Joshua and Fromma Fallik
Parenting Challenging Children: A Survival Guide for Happy Endings
An Unexpected Blessing
Tom and Joanne Ashe
Irene, Ronnie, and Brianna Kassorla
Will the Real Dad Please Stand Up?
Glenn and Donna Miller
First...A Little Sweetheart from Bangladesh
David and Donna Clauss
Senator John and Mrs. Cindy McCain
Emma Has Two Mothers
Connie Bracktenbach and Vicky McGregor
Pioneers Share Their Wisdom
Looking Back on Twenty-Five Years of Adoptive Parenting
Mel and Betsy Haas
Congresswoman Connie Morella
A Chosen Life
Magnificent Mission: Answering the Call
Peg Marengo and Alison Smith
Trust Your Instincts and Keep It Simple
Philip and Alice Hammerstein Mathias
Peter Mathias and Melinda Walsh
Twenty Years of Single Parenthood
Afterword by Dave Thomas
Useful Family-Building Resources