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Oct 2002 / young minds :: email this story to a friend

Instant Family
By Maryanne Dersch

It's one in the afternoon on a Saturday and my husband, Jon, and I are driving north on Kingshighway to go meet our son. Our son. He's three; his name is Sir Patrick. Earlier in the week we got the news that Division of Family Services had selected us to be Sir Patrick's parents. So here we are, on our way to Sir Patrick's foster mom's house for our first meeting — a 20-minute journey that will change our lives forever. It's January, but it's sunny and warm, and I keep my eyes closed but my face toward the sun.

Maryanne and Sir Patrick I am slightly hung-over and dazed. There was a small happy hour in our honor the night before. Friends brought gifts, good wishes and support. I sat there, smiling and talking, but terrified. The only way I can describe this is it's like an arranged marriage, I told my friends. Hello and welcome to the rest of your life.

We didn't know what else to do with that Saturday morning but go ahead and do what was scheduled — work on our Mardi Gras float with the rest of our krewe. So I sat on a basement floor and cut flowers out of foam board and tried to pass the time as best I could. Smart move, because before we knew it, we were in the car, heading north, to experience the adoption equivalent of childbirth.

We chose adoption because I really was not interested in being pregnant, but now I am wondering why I thought this would be any less difficult than the actual birthing process. Physically, of course, the "pregnancy" was a breeze. No bulging belly, no swollen ankles, no hanging over the toilet for weeks on end. Emotionally, though, this is awful. As BJC rolls by, I am thinking, "What have I done with my life? I like my life; it's a perfectly good one. Why am I messing it up with this kid that I don't even know?" I suddenly want to go back, back to my comfortable, happy, childless marriage.

The intensity of my fears surprises me because even though we started the process only a year earlier, we had been thinking about adopting for several years. Jon wanted to be a dad but I was on the fence about the whole baby thing. It took a while to realize that the obstacle wasn't parenting a child, but bearing one. That's when we starting thinking adoption could be the way to go. We then decided we needed to help a child close to home so we went the domestic route. We knew that most likely this would mean a trans-racial adoption and spent more time and energy deciding if that was a challenge that we would be able to handle.

We kicked off our adoption journey in February 2001, when we met with our social worker for our first home visit. Six home visits, 39 hours of training, a home study, homework, five referrals, a life book and a million hopes and wishes later, we found ourselves "in the system," in September of 2001, which meant we were officially on the rolls as potential adoptive parents. The only thing to do after that is get on with your life and wait for the call. Pregnancy without a due date, we joked, feeling confident we could handle whoever came our way, whenever that would happen.

In November we received a one-page fax and photo about Sir Patrick. His birth mom abandoned him at two, and he spent a few months at Our Little Haven and a year in foster care. He was described as shy at first, but warmed up quickly. He had speech delays and hearing and vision problems. Sure, we said, we would love to be considered. We were primed and ready, full of confidence and hope that this would be a great kid and we would be great parents.

My Top 8 Myths about
Domestic Adoption

Now confidence and hope are out the window, replaced by fear and terror. This was all really happening. No matter how much you prepare, you are never truly ready for change, I am thinking, as I fiddle with the radio and then hold Jon's hand. We don't speak because it takes all our energy just to keep breathing.

We cross the great divide, Delmar, and head north all the way to Goodfellow, where our son lives with his foster mom. All those months of training, preparing and dreaming are coming down to this moment.

We park, and walk up to the door. Neither one of us has the nerve to knock. One of us does. We wait. And wait. We are shifting and moving. It feels like I am living a lifetime on this porch. I reach out and grab Jon's hand. The door opens, Patrick's foster mom says, "Here's your new mommy and daddy!" and before we can even say hello, Patrick jumps in our arms, hugging us so hard his glasses fly off his head. Here is our boy in our arms. The thick glasses, the runny nose, the big ears, the sweet smile — they are all ours.

We play with him for a while, then drive back to our old life, which I am relieved to join. It would go like this until he moved in for good four weeks later.

Going from a family of two to a family of three was traumatic at first, and I felt guilty that having him in our home felt so much like having company over — nice to have you here, but when are you leaving again? We were strangers to each other. He cried a lot. I cried a lot and Jon just had this deer-in-the-headlights look for about a month straight. Each day was a challenge, and we just kept reminding ourselves that this would all be okay. Then one day, it all became normal. There wasn't an exact moment or day that I felt it but slowly, over about a month, it all just came together.

Almost eight months later my son bears little resemblance to the shy, awkward boy we opened the door to that day. He's is now a bright, happy, talkative and charming four-year-old. It amazes me how he has become like us. He loves parties and football games; he is outgoing and fun, a friend to everyone. He is starting to talk like us, which is simultaneously painful and hilarious to hear.

A few nights ago Patrick woke up in the middle of the night, crying, probably from a bad dream. Jon went in and calmed him down for a while, and then asked me to take a turn. I lay down on his bed, sang to him and recited Goodnight Moon, which I now know by heart. Almost at the end of the story, when he was drifting off again, he reached out and wrapped his arms around my neck.

"I love you so much, Mom," he said, pressing his head into my chest. "I love you too, sweetie. I am so glad you are my son." And we both drifted off to sleep.

Maryanne Dersch is a communications consultant at Vector Communications. She lives in Dogtown with her husband, Jon Schmuke, and their recently adopted four-year-old son, Patrick, plus two dogs and two cats. Her greatest accomplishment was being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the 2000 Ultimate Fan of the St. Louis Rams. She was a foster parent for Stray Rescue of St. Louis for four years and is active in the Clayton-Tamm neighborhood association.

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