But let's go back just a little bit!
Earlier this year, Valentines Day to be exact, we signed papers with an amazing woman named Susan VanSyckle of Christian Adoption Consultants and officially began the adoption journey. There were times of such hope, laughter, fears, tears, disappointment, anger, excitement and most of all the feeling of the unknown. My husband likes to say I have "control tendencies". I say I like to be "in the know, of all things." So, to relinquish control of every detail, of something so huge and life changing, might have been the biggest test I've ever endured.
For a super brief overview of how adoption could go, this is it:
Homestudy : Takes about 8-12 weeks. It's things like background checks, fingerprints, child abuse checks, doctor visits for medical clearance, biographies, and social worker visits to evaluate your home/marriage/children/family history/financial state. This is a clearance from the state for you to bring a child into your home and is required for any adoption.
Agency Placement: You choose an agency you want to work with to find a birth mother. Normally a fee is required to sign with an agency. Agencies work with birth mothers to make sure they are confident in their decision to adopt out, among other things.
Presentation of Adoptive Profiles: You see "situations" once you are with an agency of birth mothers and their histories. You get the option to "present" to a birth mother. Which means you want her to look at your profile and want to be the one she chooses amongst all the others. There are often many "no's" before an adoptive couple hears a "yes".
Matching: Birth Mother says she wants you as the adoptive parents. And the adoptive parents say yes to the birth mother. A portion/all of the adoption expenses are due at that time, depending on the due date, etc.
Birth: Every situation is different. Some birth moms want adoptive parents there. Some don't want to meet. Some develop relationships way before the birth and continue a relationship years after.
So, disregard every bit of what I just wrote.
And I'll tell you the Henderson version of our adoption :)
From April (when our Homestudy was approved) through October, we saw nearly 50 different situations from expectant birth mothers. (It'll take another day for me to get into that entire emotional, physical and spiritual process of seeing these situations and praying each one through).
Despite what I thought at the beginning of this journey, November rolled around and we had not said YES to being presented to one birth mother. Not one single time. I would cry to Cory and tell him "if we never present, we can never be chosen". And he would often times cry with me, all the while knowing that neither of us were settled on presenting to any situation we had seen so far. We agreed at the beginning of this that if both of us weren't 80% about a situation, we would not present. So, we sat with November upon us and had honestly relented it would be 2016 before a baby would enter our home. The situations we were seeing were due dates of Feb, March, even April at this point. My Mom heart had been settled and I told the Lord I was okay to walk out the holidays without our family of five. And I truly was leaning into the Lord and trusting.
And then on November 4th, a Wednesday afternoon at little after 5:00, I saw a name pop up on my phone. I grabbed the call with no idea what a lady I've come to love name Tara, was about to tell us.
As she spoke, it was almost like I was in a tunnel.
And different than anything before.
Here's what I remember:
"Joy, we have a baby that's been born.
A few things were different than what you guys had been "open" to, but for some reason we wanted to call you and Cory first.
If it doesn't sound right to you, that's okay. But we just thought we should call.
Story is, baby was born last week.
Birth mom has already signed relinquishment papers.
Baby was born 7 weeks early and is in NICU but only because baby isn't sucking correctly yet.
That's normal with preemies. Baby was born 5 lbs 2oz but has lost a little.
Birth mom is caucasian and birth father is african american.
Doctors say everything seems on track and they are putting baby in the step down NICU today. Before we called anyone else, we wanted to call you guys.
I can give you up to 24 hours to make a decision, but then we must move on.
Does this sound like something you and Cory would be open to?"
The only two things I remember asking were "Tara, you didn't say whether this was a boy or girl." Her response was "Oh, it's a baby girl." Anyone who knows us closely, knows we were open to either. But the Lord had rested a girl on our hearts for a while. My second question was "Does she want an open, semi-open or closed adoption." When she answered semi-open, I think I knew with every fiber of my being that this could possibly be the one.
I immediately hung up and called Cory. Now, he is always in a preservice meeting with leaders right around this time. I'm sure the sheer fact I CALLED him (I am not a phone person) scared him. When he answered and I was out of breath and my voice was shaking, he was in fact scared and wanted to make sure me and the kids were safe and okay :) After I told him about the call with Tara, he was in as much shock as I was. As soon as we hung up, he unknowingly-to-me called Tara himself to ask questions.
Fast forward to the next morning, and we are pulling every medical record we have from baby and birth mother, getting them to our doctors, nurses, and professional village. We wanted to first and foremost know what we were walking into. Knowledge is power. From everything we walked away with, nothing moved us or swayed us from the decision we knew was happening in our hearts.
We called Tara first thing Friday morning and told her yes.
We actually said the words "Yes"!!!!!
Unfortunately, by the time logistics, attorneys and paperwork could be taken care of, we were saddened to know that we needed to wait until Monday to head to Florida. If we were to go over the weekend, we would not have legal papers to see her, so we were advised to just wait the weekend out. Talk about the longest wait.
At the same time, baby girl was doing SO well, that she was discharged from the hospital. So, at 10 days old, she was released into a private cradle care home that works with our attorney. Monday morning rolled around and we got the official call around 10am to COME TO FLORIDA TO GET YOUR BABY!!!! We checked the kids out of school, and headed on our way!
I'll never forget the few moments as we crossed the bridge into Jacksonville. The sun was setting and it was a scene so beautiful I had rarely seen anything like it before. As cliche as it sounds, Cory and I couldn't make eye contact. As we were listening to some worship, we just simply heard the sniffling from each other. I knew in that moment that God had been writing this story long before I ever knew any detail. I knew that in just a few moments our lives would forever be changed. We were about to meet our daughter.
We stopped about 7 minutes before we got to the cradle care home so that we could all freshen up and change from t-shirts to actual clothes. This was our last picture as a family of four, in the parking lot of a shopping plaza!
We arrived to the home around 6pm where "Memaw" was taking care of our baby. We all got to hold her, I fed her, and changed her diaper. And then we had to say goodbye until the next day.
The next day at 1pm, we walked into the attorneys office to sign papers for Ella Kate Henderson to become ours! While we were signing documents, the amazing cradle care grandma let Autumn and Easton hold Ella in a playroom. The birth mother called while we were there and asked if we could meet with her on Thursday (two days later). The attorney advised us that this was not required of us, and it was up to us. Cory and I had decided that we wanted to be honoring of her and that we would come back on Thursday for the meeting.
So, with a car seat we had just purchased the day before, a couple diapers and one bottle, we left the attorneys ... and headed to Target! We had no preemie clothes. No preemie diapers. No formula since she was on a special preemie kind So, shopping was on the agenda! The kids thought it was like Christmas!
The day after we brought her home (hotel) she had a cardiologist appointment for a heart murmur. Nothing like a two hour EKG and ultrasound to throw you right into Mommy mode. Cory looked at me during the ultrasound and said "I think you need some medicine to calm your anxiety right now." When I told him we had left in such a hurry, I didn't even bring Ibuprofen with me, he knew it was going to be a tough appointment for me. Thankfully after the two hours of tests, the cardiologist told us Ella has ASD. One of the flaps that immediately close when the umbilical cord is cut, simply didn't close all the way. It's a normal thing in babies, and especially preemies. He said 80%plus chance that it will close up on it's own by the time she is a year old, and we will do another test at that point simply to make sure. We walked out and said "we will celebrate every victory. This is a huge one."
Thursday came. It was time to go back to the attorneys office for our supervised visit with the birth mom. I'm not sure how to accurately describe the emotions leading up to that moment, so I don't even think I will try. We walked into the attorneys and Tara sweetly smiled and said "she's in here, but she's very upset." We walked into a room where a beautiful woman was visibly emotional and crying. She hugged us both and the first thing she said was "thank you, thank you." We exchanged just a few words of greeting as she looked at Ella in the car seat and cried some more. She commented how beautiful she was. We told her that she in fact was beautiful and that she had done a great job. The case worker reiterated "Yes, you did that. Look at her!" The birth mother had not been able to hold Ella in the hospital. When she was born, she went straight into NICU. So, she asked if she could hold her and we told her absolutely. I remember Cory trying to unbuckle her, and I think he was so nervous he just couldn't get her out! I went over and got her out, wrapped her in her blanket and handed her to her birth mother. She stood rocking her, crying and telling her how sorry she was. And then continued to thank us. After a few moments, she sweetly handed Ella back to me. I sat down holding Ella and she sat down beside me. She had one question for us and that was "if we would love her as our own". She herself had been moved around in foster homes and family homes as a child, and never treated the same as the biological children. Before I even had a chance to answer, Cory looked at her with tears in his eyes and said "I promise you that we will treat her as good as our older two, if not better. She is already so loved." That is all that the birth mother needed, because she cried again. And said "I need to go." Before she left, I gave her a necklace and explained that Ella will have the same one when she is older. She asked me to put the necklace on her. We then hugged again and as quickly as we had arrived, we were leaving.
It seemed so surreal. And so peaceful all at the same time.
I think she needed that closure.
And we needed that closure.
As Cory put it, we were able to see that she had a tender heart.
As tough and as uncharted territory as it was, it was good for us all.
We left the attorneys office and drove straight to where our almost entire family all got to meet her. Tell me the Lord is not into details! We can now say that ALL of us were born in Florida. It seems a small detail to some, but it was one my Momma heart wanted throughout this whole time! After 13 days of being in Florida we got the ICPC clearance call that we could go HOME! This was one of the many pit stops I'm sure we will make in the years to come because sweetness was hungry!
To sum this up, let me tell you that this sort of story is rare.
Things don't happen like this, or fall into place like this, or have so many risk factors removed from adoption. We had never planned to adopt an already born baby. I never saw myself getting her from an attorneys office instead of a hospital. I had a "birth story" all laid out. Yet, in all the ideas we have of the way things should go, God totally goes before us and sees the situation so much better. We didn't have to worry about a birth mom changing her mind like so many people unfortunately do, because papers had already been signed. We didn't have to wonder if our daughter would be born with this or that, simply because she was already HERE and we could see her with our own eyes! We never once presented ourselves to a birth mom. We had an attorneys office "feel like" they should call US. People, that's huge. God spared us in so many ways we will probably never even know.
I tell people so often who ask about why we would adopt. That's the easiest question to answer.
Redemption, plain and simple.
We were once redeemed.
Chosen by a God, who saw our imperfections, and still said yes.
Saved from death, to life.
Adoption is messy.
But it is oh so beautiful.
It is heartbreaking.
And it is life giving.
To see Ella's face and know that her destiny could have been death.
Could have been abortion.
Could have been a life apart from us.
Adoption is worth it.
Adoption is redemption.
There is SO much more I want to say about our emotions, about our hearts, about Autumn & Easton.
But this is simply to let you all know of Ella's introduction to our lives. It's a scratch in the surface of the entire journey. I'll write out soon some of the process of our hearts. For now, know that our arms and hearts are full. We feel honored that the Lord orchestrated such a rare, yet beautiful exchange for us to bring her into our lives. We will never be the same again.