Oh, by the way…

My last few blog posts have been about what’s been going on more currently in our adoption process. It’s still pretty surreal that it’s actually all done. No more phone calls, home visits, attorney fees, emails, paperwork… she’s ours! But the end also makes me reflect on the beginning.

 

It’s hard really to say when this process began. The thing is, I think that God actually began preparing me for this long before Rylee was born, before I even met my husband, before having a child was a real thought or possibility. God has been preparing my heart for Rylee for quite some time now. So, the beginning could be when I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome in my teens and I first asked the doctor “does this mean I won’t be able to be pregnant?” It could be when I became passionate about the pro-life movement and the gift of adoption. It could be when we first spoke with Sarah, Rylee’s birth mom about this. It could have been the first time we held her, and when we left her, crying, Adam saying “yea, she’s ours.” Or, it could have been a completely normal night in February of 2015.

 

I don’t remember the date. Probably because there was nothing that stood out about this particular day. Adam and I had both gone to work. We had eaten dinner and were sitting on the couch watching TV together to unwind. We were talking about each other’s days and having casual conversation. Then, Adam said “Oh, by the way….” Words I’d expect to hear following “Oh, by the way…” are things like “did you remember to pick up coffee when you went to the store?” “Don’t forget, I have to work late tomorrow.” “We need to pay our cable bill.” You get the idea. What I didn’t expect were the words that followed – the words that forever changed our lives. Here’s about how the conversation went. Adam: “Oh, by the way, do you remember my cousin Sarah?” Me: “Yea, I met her a couple of times, why?” Adam: “Ann called me today. Apparently she had a baby in December and she’s in foster care. She thought of us because she knows that we’d like to adopt.” Me: “What? Honey, this isn’t an ‘oh, by the way’ kind of conversation!” And several questions, which neither of us knew the answer to, ensued. To really appreciate this conversation, you need to know Adam. Pretty much everything is an “oh, by the way” conversation to him. I love that about him. He’s very laid back and even-keeled. He tries not to take things too seriously. He didn’t get why I thought that this sort of conversation should have been brought up in a bit more serious way. Nevertheless, it took about a whole day before I was sure that this little girl (we didn’t even yet know her name) was ours. And thus the process began. It’d still be about two months before we’d ever see her for the first time, three before we’d hold her, nine before we’d bring her home, and thirty-one months before the adoption would finalize. But that first conversation, for us, marks the beginning of this process. We laugh about it now, but we had no idea at the time that our world was about to change so much.

 

God knew. See, there is something else that sticks out about that month – February of 2015. I mentioned that I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is the leading cause of infertility in women. Typically, it’s pretty treatable, but Adam and I have struggled with infertility throughout our marriage. That month, I had seen my doctor and was about to start taking Clomid. I’d had some tests done and needed to go back in. Between the tests and the next visit, United Healthcare (my insurance provider) and Carolinas Healthcare System (one of the largest providers in NC) dropped their contracts. This meant that until – or if – they resolved the contract, no treatment by my provider, who was a doctor in the CHS system, would be covered. They assured us that it would work out and we’d be retroactively reimbursed. But something told me that this just wasn’t the time. I canceled my appointments with plans to either find another doctor or reschedule once everything was resolved. Neither of those ever happened, because it was only a couple of weeks later that we found out about Rylee and our focus shifted to adopting her. God has a plan – in the “No’s,” the “not right nows,” and the disappointments, the Lord is fighting for us, if we can just be still (Exodus 14:14).

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OFFICIALLY A SIMONS!

“All we get is a letter in the mail? After all of this, that seems so anti-climactic!”

Our attorney thoroughly explained the process to us several months ago as we were nearing the final steps. Now that we had been through ICPC not once, but twice (once for the placement, the next for the adoption study), had had multiple background checks, criminal histories, physicals and doctor’s approval that we are in fact healthy enough to raise Rylee (which we had already been doing for about a year), two rounds of interviews and recommendation letters, we were ready to file the petition to adopt (our requesting the court to adopt, which entailed lots of documents and signatures). Once that was done, our attorney explained matter-of-factly, the court will request a home study and recommendation from your caseworker (wait, a third home study by the same caseworker to provide the same information on a new form? Yes, that’s correct). After that is received, there’s typically a 90-day waiting period, but that should be waived since she’s already been living with you, so the decree will be issued and you’ll receive it in the  mail! As he’s explaining this, I begin quietly sobbing as the prospect of all of this begins to seem like a reality. Our attorney was such a sweet man who stepped out to get me tissues then gently asked if I was okay. Yes, just happy, hopeful tears, I explained. But – to clarify – we don’t go to court? There’s no judge? No bang of a gavel? After all of this, the way we will know our adoption is final is when we pull it out of the mailbox?? That just doesn’t seem right.

Luckily, the good Lord saw fit to give me a little more excitement to end this process than finding the decree in the mailbox one day. Our final home study and all other necessary documents were submitted at the end of July. Our caseworker explained that it takes “up to 30 days” for the court to issue the decree, so you should receive it in August. We’ll hold off on scheduling an August visit, she said, because it should be official and we won’t need one! Around the middle of August, I began checking the mailbox every day when I got home like I was a little kid running to look under the tree on Christmas morning. Day after day passed. Finally, only a few days until the end of August, our caseworker (have I mentioned how much of a rockstar Jacquelynn was??) called and explained that they were actually still waiting on one document, so it hasn’t been reviewed. Oh, of course. I completed that document, had it notorized, and got it our attorney that day. They submitted it to the court the next day. At this point, we’d already had our party scheduled for September 16, so I asked if I should reschedule it, and was told not to yet. Jacquelynn got a hold of the court clerk supervisor again, who said that it should be soon and that, at my request, they would call me when it was completed so I would know and be able to come pick it up before receiving it in the mail. I got in touch with the court clerk supervisor on September 8 and, after finding our file, said routinely “this will be finalized next week.” “What?? Really?! Thank you so much!!!! You have no idea, this has been such a long process!”

By Tuesday, I called her again just to see if she had any clue as to which day, since I hadn’t heard anything yet. “It should be done either tomorrow or Thursday.” When I didn’t hear anything on Wednesday, I was pretty down. See my last post. By Thursday, I decided to just have a sense of humor about it. It seemed too late to cancel the party, so we’ll just put post-its on the banner and change the words on the cake to say “almost officially a Simons.” It’ll come when it comes. I left a voicemail for her again Thursday afternoon just to double-check that they hadn’t forgotten to call me.

On Friday, September 15, at about 2:30, I get a call from the court clerk supervisor. She explains that in fact there was just one more thing they were missing from our attorney. They had gotten in touch with him, and he was sending someone with the documents now. “You can come pick up the decree today after 4pm.” I was ecstatic, overwhelmed, and in disbelief – litterally. “I have to get there today, because I won’t believe it’s done until it’s in my hands,” I told Adam. Of course, it was a crazy day at work and it wasn’t easy to leave early (thanks so much to a great boss who understood and let me go), but I got out shortly after 4. I raced to pick up Rylee from daycare and got to the courthouse as quickly as I could. It was about 4:43 as I pulled into the parking garage. I got Rylee out of the car, picked her up, and began running to the courthouse. I frantically asked everyone I passed “do you know where I’d go to pick up a decree of adoption??” I was told the 3rd floor. When I get to the 3rd floor, I’m told I actually need to go to the 8th floor. I head back to the elevator nervously checking my watch – 4:52 – and head to the 8th floor. I run through the double doors and to the window, so grateful to see someone (the courthouse was already emptying out) and breathily say “I’m here to pick up a decree of adoption.” She looks at me, then looks at Rylee and simply says “for Rylee?” as she holds up an envelope. I profusely thank her as I take it, pull the decree out of the envelope, and go sit down on a bench. I can’t read it all right now, but the phrases “decree of adoption,” “Rylee Marie Simons,” “adopted for life” stick out to me. I FaceTime Adam and we sit together, crying, in disbelief (I was grateful at this moment for the empty courthouse and the gift of a private moment to take this all in). Yes, it’s really done. She really is a Simons. Once we’d called Adam and both of my parents, Rylee and I get on the elevator to head home and another woman gets on with us. She glances at the papers in my hand and says “Mrs. Simons?” “Yes, I’m Christie Simons.” “I’m Angela, the court clerk supervisor,” she explains. “Oh my goodness, it’s so nice to meet you! Thank you SO MUCH! I’m so sorry for pestering you!” “Don’t worry about it at all,” she graciously says, “I’m so happy for you.” Yes, this was a much better ending than finding it finalized in our mailbox. It so perfectly summed up this entire process – it did not go according to *our* plan, was messy, dramatic, hectic, exciting, perfect, chaotic, and beautiful. It was draining and exhausting, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

It is finished. The courts and the papers now confirm what we’ve known for over two years: she is our daughter, Rylee Marie Simons.

Today, I am grateful.

Yesterday, I felt defeated. For some reason, I got my hopes up that I would get our much-anticipated call that the adoption was finalized. (I didn’t make this day up, by the way – I spoke with the court clerk supervisor who told me it’d either happen yesterday or today). Following suit with this process over the last two years though, that didn’t happen. I wasn’t surprised, but I was still frustrated. I knew in my head that it wasn’t that big of a deal – today, tomorrow, a year from now. But I couldn’t shake feeling disappointed, frustrated, defeated. So many times throughout this process things haven’t gone how I’d expected.

But then I picked Rylee up from school. She dropped her toys and ran into my arms yelling “mommy!” On the way home, she pretended to see a bear outside the car then threw her head back, mouth open, laughing the type of laugh that is good for the soul. And at night, as we left her room, she said “Sweet dreams! *kiss* Love you!”

Reality hit. The piece of paper really changes nothing. Piece of paper or not, Rylee is our daughter. And so today, I choose gratitude and joy. Gratitude for this beautiful, incredible, sweet, loving little girl that God gave to us. Gratitude for sweet moments like catching a caterpillar or pretending to run from an imaginary bear. Gratitude for my husband, who is a far better father than I could have ever imagined. Gratitude for this process, that though frustrating, has made me more patient, has increased my trust in the Lord, and has made me thankful for the little things. Gratitude for countless family and friends who have prayed for us, supported, and encouraged us throughout this process.

I also know the reality that Rylee wouldn’t the incredibly sweet and loving little girl she is had she not been cared for and loved so well and in such great homes during her first year when she couldn’t yet be in ours. I hate the fact that I didn’t get to be the one caring for her from her first moment, or that I didn’t get to hold her for the first time until she was 5 months old, or bring her home until she was 11 months old. But I’m much more grateful for the incredible people who did give her loving homes. There are not adequate words to express, but here’s a feeble attempt.

Thank you. Those words don’t begin to convey the gratitude in my heart. They seem hollow. How do you express the appropriate thankfulness for keeping my baby safe and loved when I wasn’t yet able?

When Rylee was 5 months old, we were able to begin visiting her, thanks to her incredible foster parents. This was a gift, one we did not take for granted. In fact, from May – November 2015, every single weekend, we drive down to my parents’ house in Dunwoody and get to spend the weekend with her. My heart was full, all was right. Then, every Sunday, my heart would break all over again as we had to tell her goodbye. (Why didn’t we just move there? We thought about it, and certainly would have, but were actually advised not to by our attorney so as not to appear that we were trying to “skirt the process.” The process she was referring to was ICPC – the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children; more on that later. Back to the point of this post.) Through every tearful goodbye and sobbing car-ride home, every empty week yearning for the weekend to be reunited with our sweet girl, there was one small gift. We knew that she was in good hands, and there is no replacement for that.

To Amy and Robert,

Thank you. Thank you that you said “yes” when you got the call from a caseworker explaining that there was a baby girl just born, still in the hospital, who needed a home. For holding her when she cried and helping her feel secure, thank you. For never leaving her side when she was admitted to the hospital with RSV, thank you. For having newborn pictures taken and saving precious memories, like her hospital wristband, for me, thank you. For taking her to Church on Sundays and displaying the unmistakeable love and light of Jesus, thank you. For welcoming us when we were just strangers into your home. For believing in us, praying for us, and being the first ones to call us “mom and dad,” thank you. Though Rylee won’t remember her time with you, the impact will be lasting. It has forever colored all of her memories yet to come. Her ability to love and be loved was no doubt shaped by being loved from the very beginning. We are indebted to you and so very grateful. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
To Rachel and Cliff,

When Rylee was in need, you didn’t even hesitate. You made room in your already full home and, even with three children of your own (one an infant a few months younger than Rylee!), while still grieving the loss of your sister, you gave Rylee a home full of love. Rachel, your boundless energy never ceases to amaze me (what is your secret?). Cliff, your laid-back, go-with-the-flow, but incredibly generous heart is astounding. You guys supported us and loved us – but more importantly, loved Rylee as your own. Thank you. For getting up in the middle of the night with Rylee, in between waking up Crosby!, thank you. For taking her back and forth to doctor’s appointments and giving her breathing treatments every few hours when she just couldn’t shake that virus, thank you. For not yet having her outfit picked out when we’d come to pick her up because you knew how much I loved doing that, thank you. For how you continue to pour into her life, thank you.
Mom and Dad,

You made those weekends possible. You’re the very best grandparents a kid could ask for. For loving her from the very beginning, thank you. For all the driving back and forth to pick her up and take her back, the babysitting, the housing an extra family (and two dogs!) every weekend, thank you. For letting us leave your house a wreck every Sunday because you knew that every minute with Rylee before we yet again had to leave was precious, and that cleaning could come later, thank you. For supporting, encouraging, and making me believe I could do anything my entire life, thank you. You set me up with the traits needed for this journey – endurance, perseverance, and maybe a little stubbornness. Probably the lesson I most remember from Dad growing up was that if you’re going to do something at all, you should give it everything you’ve got. I fought hard for Rylee, and I gave it everything I had, so thank you. For how you both continue to love us all, thank you.
For all of you who made those 11 months without her *almost* bearable, thank you. Linda, for the endless support, encouragement, positivity, and prayers, thank you. For raising Adam to be the man, husband, father he is, thank you. For being the VERY best Mimi, thank you! Ann and Tim, for reaching out to us to let us know there was a little girl who needed a loving home from the beginning, and for believing in us, praying with and for us, and doing all you could to help, thank you. Joe and Amanda, Amanda and Thierry, and the rest of our incredible family. Whitney (our wine and talks helped get me through!), Kristi and Adam, and the rest of our community group and Church family. Jacquelynn, our phenomenal NC caseworker, who knows how to get the job DONE! All the other caseworkers, guardian ad litem, our attorneys, the judge, and all the other people throughout this process who played a role, said a prayer, offered a word of encouragement… you all mean more than you know.

 

Thank you. Today, my heart is full, and I choose joy.

Still waiting…

Listen, people who know me well know that I’m not a big fan of blogs. It’s not that I don’t read some blogs. I do. I get recipes from blogs, read inspiring stories, laugh, and generally enjoy many people’s amazingly talented blogs. What’s always bothered me about a blog is the idea behind it. It’s the same idea, I think, behind our selfie-culture. I don’t do selfies. Unless, of course, my amazing daughter happens to be in one. Then, no one is looking at me anyway. There is just something that seems so egotistical about taking a selfie (sorry to the 100% of you reading this that DO take selfies – I truly and genuinely mean no offense). There’s something about publishing my story, or sharing a picture of myself, that seems presumptuous to me. What’s so great about me that people would want to read my story? (Truly, nothing). It’s also vulnerable. I’m opening myself up to others’ critiques. And those who know me well will also know that I don’t take failure well. I might be a little bit of what some would call a perfectionist. And bear with me, because this will not be perfect. It will be messy, jumbled, and out-of-order. All of that said, I do have a story to tell. We all have a story to tell. The thing is – it’s not my story. It’s God’s story. His story that he’s been writing for a long time. His story that I’ve been so very, very fortunate to play a small role in. As I’m writing this, I’m awaiting our final decree of adoption that should be coming in the next couple of weeks. We’ve been working toward this for over two years. But now, I’m waiting for something that might actually come. Our paperwork is in. We’re at the finish line. Our daughter will, very soon (fingers crossed!!), officially share our last name. (And since I first wrote this, have hit a setback. It actually should have been coming any day. I’ve been checking the mail in anticipation daily. However, just an hour ago, I got off the phone with our caseworker and was informed that a document which our attorney thought was waived, was not. Yet one more document is needed.) As I reflect back on this process and what it has been like, and share bits and pieces with others, I’m in awe. God has been so good, so faithful, so patient. I’ve learned so much and been so incredibly, beyond belief lucky. It’s a story that people have told me I should write. And I resist. But I also feel a pull. So I’m giving into that tug on my heart to share God’s great story, for after all, what greater purpose are we on this earth for if not to witness to God’s great love for us? This is mainly for you, though, my sweet angel. We want you to know your story. To know that you were chosen, loved from the very beginning, and that we fought hard for you. Your mommy sometimes has a hard time expressing things verbally. There are times when I have something really important that I want to communicate, so I do it through a letter or email. Your daddy has gotten many. And if while writing this love letter to you, even one other person experiences hope, inspiration, or just feels less alone in their journey, then all the better. So, a blog it is. I’m a hypocrite, I KNOW! (Aren’t we all?). Please join me on this journey.