WE found out by text message. “Don’t get on the plane. The birth mother is unsure.”
It was 6 a.m. in December in Seattle. A quiet stillness — the kind only possible after a month of winter rain and gloom — threatened to envelop us. We began our vigil, calling the Louisiana social worker not nearly as much as we wanted to. We received no answer, had no connection to the couple that had chosen us, a lesbian couple, to adopt their just-born baby.
The night before, as we double-checked our bags to make sure we had formula and baby clothes, we received a photo of him, also by text. Then it felt amazing to be so connected by technology. Now, the chasm created by our unanswered texts and calls made us feel utterly adrift.
By noon we knew all hope was gone, but without a final word we banged around our house, not wanting to unpack. The blue gloom began settling in by 4, but we hesitated to turn on lights, not wanting to commit to the idea that we were here to stay. At last, almost 12 hours from when we were to leave for the airport, we got the word: She had left the hospital. With the baby.
The next day we spent the morning in tears, telling only our immediate family that the grandchild they were so excited for was not coming. We told other friends via e-mail and asked them to tell anyone we had missed, as each time we said it out loud it felt like pushing on a deep, spreading bruise.
We had to escape, so we left for our refuge, our cabin on the Oregon coast. We fled our house with just the essentials: glasses, changes of clothing, books we wouldn’t have the patience to read. We knew our friends would be coming later to pack up the baby’s room and put everything into sterile plastic bins to store in our home’s crawl space.
In the car, I gasped out loud, breaking the heavy silence. I remembered that our automatic e-mail replies for work were on, telling colleagues we had started maternity leave. We pulled over to shut off the offending technology, stemming the tide of barely familiar colleagues who would send us their misbegotten congratulations.
For the following year, the only connection to our “disrupted” adoption was financial. The agency was lax in returning the small amount of the thousands we paid that we were entitled as a refund. Not being a legally recognized couple, we couldn’t split the burden of chasing down the money. Because only one of us was listed as the adopting parent, my partner had to deal with every call and detail related to the child that didn’t enter our lives as I stood mutely by, the unrecognized party, unable to share the burden.
We had learned that no country in the world would let an openly gay couple adopt internationally. Many of our states don’t either, so gay couples try to adopt, as we did, as a single parent. We comforted ourselves with the idea that at least we had the resources at our disposal to try again. Some lesbian couples we know did not.
We started again, this time with an “open” adoption agency. The openness didn’t just apply to the adoption itself, where we would have lifelong relationships with the birth parents, but in another way, with us as a gay couple. We could be ourselves, out and together, as we are in all other aspects of our lives.
We steeled ourselves for the process yet again: more fingerprints sent to the F.B.I., a new home study, a new agency, and another wait (average length for straight couples: 13 months, for gay couples: 16 months). At almost exactly 16 months, we got the call: a birth mother from the Seattle area had picked us off the Web site. She was due in August. An art student, she had connected with us because we cited Harry Potter and “The Lord of the Rings” in our profile as books and movies we enjoy.
Could something that tenuous really bring a child into our lives? The link felt as thin as spider silk. We prepared for our initial meeting, sweaty and unsure.
Our caseworker slipped out of the office to bring in the birth mother, and a moment later we took in this living, breathing person for the first time, an experience so different from our last, where we met no one and knew so little. She was beautiful, tall, self-possessed, tattooed. She looked like — and was — the kind of 20-year-old that worked the cash register at a trendy hair salon.
Jennifer Hauseman is the head of new media for a family foundation based in Seattle.