May 7, 2018
9 Years ago, yesterday was the happiest day of my life. Why? In addition to having a wonderful stepdaughter and a happy and healthy three-year-old, my baby girl, Stephanie, joined our family…making it complete. But it was a long road to get there.
First, I need to tell you about my oldest sister, Stephanie. My sister had passed as an infant and was my parents’ first child. We were both born with similar medical issues, but due to medical advances from the 15-year gap in our age, I survived with no long-term issues. I never knew my older sister, but I always felt a strong connection with her.
The day after my wedding before heading out for our honeymoon, my new little family (my husband Joe, and 14 year old stepdaughter Valerie, and myself) went to bring wedding flowers to my grandparents’ graves. Valerie warmed my heart, when she asked if she could place her bridesmaid’s bouquet at my sister’s graveside, because she knew that my sister Stephanie would have been a bridesmaid with Valerie and my sister Leah.
In that moment, as I watched Valerie place her bridesmaid’s bouquet on Stephanie’s stone I made a silent vow that someday, somehow, I would have a Stephanie of my own to rejuvenate that name with happiness in our family.
I am a firm believer in my theory that there is the right baby out there for every family, and the right family out there for every child. There is that one in a million that I try and find for each family. I truly feel my husband Joe and I found ours with our two little girls and Valerie.
I often say my firstborn, Elle, healed my broken heart over not being a mother, and my Stephanie, my baby, filled it in a way I never knew it had been empty.
Elle came into our world as we believed my husband Joe was done battling the cancer that he had been diagnosed during our fertility treatments. We had just lost his dad six months earlier and were approached by a colleague of mine that said he wondered if Joe and I ever considered adoption (I did not work in the field at this point).
I got some very basic information about a specific case, including the fact that the baby was due on October 9th, which was my father in law’s birthday. I called Joe at work and asked what he thought about adoption, and his response was “Honey, every day we pray for a baby, and never once have we said ‘Oh, and God…make sure it’s biological.’ So let’s go for it. Maybe this is how we celebrate my dad’s first birthday without him.”
Elle came a couple weeks early, but we truly feel his dad had a hand in this case. Just after she was born, we found out Joe’s cancer surgery was not as successful as we had hoped. We started radiation 3 months after she was born.
We got through this difficult time because of her, because she needed us, and because we loved her more than life itself.
Without Elle I don’t know how we would have dealt with Joe’s dad’s passing or Joe’s Cancer. Elle kept us going.
Three years later, we were planning on adopting again. We got a phone call in April about a baby due to be born that week. We found out the morning after she was born that she was a healthy baby girl, and we could go see her. We did and immediately fell in love. We named her Stephanie in honor of my sister.
While we were there, the birthmom left the hospital, and we stayed with the baby to take care of her. The attorney and caseworker weren’t available until the next day to sign consents, so we waited. The next day the Birthmom came back and had the attorney ask us to leave, as she changed her mind and wanted to parent the baby. The baby with whom we had fallen in love, claimed in our hearts as our daughter, and had named Stephanie.
We left that hospital that day truly broken. We picked up Elle from my parents’ home, whom had never spent the night away from me until that night, and went home to our house decorated in pink balloons, flowers, and baby gifts galore. My friends and mom had set it all up the night before, while we were at the hospital with Stephanie.
Joe quietly put every piece of baby stuff in the nursery or garbage while I cried. The next month was miserable. Every night at bedtime when we said our prayers with Elle, she would ask if we could pray for her baby sister that she had thought was so cute but had gotten taken away from her. She asked for her daily.
I would beat myself up about not demanding consents be signed that day earlier, about how maybe if I had picked a different name not associated with tragedy this wouldn’t have happened, etc. etc.
Quietly, we just kept on going, and Easter came late that year. The Greek Orthodox Church does a midnight mass approaching Easter, and I was there with Joe, Elle, my parents, and so on. I was crying, again. Joe leaned over and said “It’s time Mary. You have to heal. Pray she is where she is supposed to be, and you have to move on.” I trusted my husband and did just that.
Easter Day was spent with 60 people whom I knew were quietly asking my parents how Joe and I were doing with the whole Stephanie situation. I just kept telling myself I was going to follow Joe’s advice, and pray she was where she was supposed to be and move forward.
We had taken Monday off work and were watching tv, when the call came. The Birthmom had spent Sunday going through the sale ads trying to figure how to afford more formula and diapers. She decided she would see if we were still interested in adoption. She wanted her baby girl to have everything she needed. She said she needed a few days emotionally to say goodbye, but that we could take placement on Thursday.
I did not get my hopes up at all, but I did recognize that it would be 35 days after she was born. This was significant in my heart because my sister, Stephanie, lived 34 days and that was her time in our family, and my Stephanie came to us on day 35, when it was her turn in our family.
Mother’s Day was the weekend of Stephanie’s placement, and was truly one of my most treasured memories.
Today, I sat in awe of my sweet Stephanie watching her 9 year old self jumping on her trampoline in pure joy, and thanked God for these gifts in my life and the joy she and her sisters bring me. May each of you celebrate motherhood this coming weekend, or the woman you call mom, or simply the gift of family.