The path to motherhood can be anything but easy. Rose Apodaca was almost cheated out of her chance on a five-year emotional roller-coaster ride.
Each morning, during that noiseless spell before the day is officially under way with mugs of English tea and unrelenting e-mails, I awake to the same astonishing view: my husband, Andy, and, in between us, our delicious baby, Nina Marisol, all cocoa-colored chubs, long lashes, and Cupid’s bow lips.
Nina turned one in August. But it took more than five years and tests of Homeric tenacity to get here. I have the ground-down molars to prove it. That was longer than the wait for the picture-perfect proposal from Andy on a Nicaraguan beach two years after our first date. Or the ”I do’s” that autumn on a Mexican beach. Or the global-design business we launched in our Los Angeles home about nine months after we hooked up.
Over oysters, two weeks into dating, I gave it to Andy straight: “You say you don’t want children. I do. We can have our spring fling in Morocco and toodle-oo. Or I’ll hold off on in vitro with [my gay best friend] if you see a future with me—and children.”
In vitro was a long shot. Since my 20s, I had coped with rampant uterine fibroids. I’d had two laparoscopies, then two myomectomies. Each time, dozens of fibroids were excised. And each time, my stalwart gynecologist strove for preservation. Truth was, at 36, my womb was held together by hope and a prayer. But I refused to let surgeries, throbbing pain, or the realization I might not ever give birth define me. Even at my most debilitating moments, including a blood transfusion to amp up my anemic red-cell count, I continued to consider other choices.
I shared this all with Andy. By the second martini of our oyster repast, he had his answer: It wasn’t that he didn’t want kids. He just hadn’t met anyone he wanted to have them with until now.
Two years and a liberating hysterectomy later, we sat, a platoon of butterflies amok in our bellies, in an office colored every shade of peach. The adoption facilitators seated across from us resembled the real moms of Orange County and told honey-voiced anecdotes of happily-ever-afters through smiles of bleached teeth. We had found them at a daylong seminar hosted by Resolve, a national nonprofit devoted to infertility problems and “family building options.”
The grilling began. We figured ourselves so shrewd with our queries about the process, about them, about the $12,500 fee to connect us with a birth mother. Not a cent of that covered any costs related to the mom or the baby. But what price family?
A domestic private adoption through an agency, facilitator, or lawyer often runs from $30,000 to $50,000. And though state- and county-funded foster-to-adopt programs can cost a fraction of that, there is no guarantee that a child—no matter how screwed up the birth parents—will become part of the fostering family because of state-mandated reunification efforts with the biological parents.
It’s a damaged system we weren’t willing to gamble on for our maiden voyage into parenthood. It might have been saner.
Eight long months after contracting with the facilitators, we were days from opening a second store when a call came with news of a birth mother delivering in three weeks. I was exhilarated. Andy panicked. My mom, sister, and I convinced him that with their help, we could handle the store opening, the holiday retail rush, and a new baby. The facilitators instructed us to put the woman and her kids in a new apartment, away from an abusive boyfriend. We overnighted a check for two months’ rent, food, and a phone.
The baby was expected for Thanksgiving Day, so we decided to wait for that long weekend with family to assemble the crib and decorate the room in a world-traveler theme.
Then the calls began. The birth mother phoned relentlessly at crazy hours with sensational claims, always angling for money. But my reporter’s instincts kicked in and I spotted discrepancies in her stories.
Two days after the date of the supposed birth, we insisted on a meeting. We’d wanted this since day one, but she’d always had an excuse. Suffice it to say she looked big—just not pregnant. Her claims added up to a fat scam, a trick by a group of grifters.
What kind of evil people do this? Hell hath no fury like a would-be mother deceived. In the ensuing months, Andy and I tried to right this wrong, finding empathetic ears at the FBI and adoption advocacy groups. Their collective response was no less crushing: Move on.
Contractually, the facilitators were not accountable for the $8,000 we had provided them to cover the birth mother’s expenses and were not required to return their own fee. They were not complicit, just incompetent. Our attorneys advised that going to war with them would only cost us more time, money, and emotions. Keep your eye on the prize, our friends urged, and become parents.
We also learned a facilitator is not a licensed adoption agency. Facilitators are the matchmakers of the adoption industry—and what an industry it is. Many do little vetting of birth mothers beyond an application form during the first meeting. It seemed irresponsible, even lazy, in this age of easily accessed online data. No wonder many burned parents are crusading to pass legislation to have facilitators licensed or banned.
It was April when we finally took apart the crib and stashed it deep in the garage. The months flew by, 22 of them, interrupted by only a handful of inconsequential leads.
The next February, on a flight back from visiting his family in England, Andy turned to me: “I don’t want to be just a couple. I want a family. With you.” It was high time for a leap of faith.
We charged into an intensive eight-week training program with Children’s Bureau, a nonprofit entity that works with foster-to-adopt programs. During Saturday sessions and conversations with a growing network of adoptive parents, we took strange comfort in knowing that everyone, no matter what route they’d taken, had a mind-bending, heartrending story to tell.
Fully certified in first aid and a heap more parenting skills than the general population is expected to have, we received a phone call. The Orange County facilitators were insisting they had found a match—a true pregnancy this time.
Were we crazy to take the bait?
Children’s Bureau didn’t hesitate to direct us to a well-regarded adoption attorney. They and our attorneys proved capable enough to restore our faith in the system. We quickly cut out the facilitators, who were already creating chaos.
The next four months were an exercise in nail biting and pretending to play it cool as the birth date neared. Even then, Andy and I, and all our family and friends, knew we wouldn’t be able to fully, easily exhale until the final adoption papers were signed in court months later. (Until then, the entire process is fraught with uncertainties: Foremost in any adoptive parent’s mind is that in California, the birth mother can change her mind at any time in an independent adoption, even up to 30 days after the child is born.)
At about 1:00 A.M. on August 12, 2010, I was awoken by the swooping sounds of a text message. It was the birth mother. Her water had broken. By dawn, we were fully outfitted in seafoam-green scrubs inside a blindingly bright delivery room. As I stroked the birth mother’s hair, I looked up. There she was, a six-pound, 10-ounce gift. A tiny left fist pumped the air above a shock of black hair. “Triumph!” I imagined this little thing was signaling to me. At that moment, I knew Nina was mine.
We took our daughter home three days later. Among those awaiting us was my two-month-old niece, Melody Rose, another family triumph: Doctors had thought my younger sister’s chances of pregnancy at 40 were close to nil. And yet here we were, not so suddenly, with our husbands and baby daughters.
Six months later, Andy and I stood with Nina in our arms, along with our attorneys, surrounding a judge as a court reporter snapped our photograph. It was a final, if unofficial, step in family court marking that Nina was legally ours. All ours. The five crazy years it took to get here were now a blip in the big picture of life.
Nina is with us everywhere we go, from a downtown sushi bar (she’s mad for pickled veggies) to the top of a Yucatán pyramid, charming everyone along the way with her great big eyes and even bigger personality. Imagined or not, I’d like to think she gets her fondness for rock steady from Andy and attachment to books from me.
Most of all, Nina confirms what I have always believed about family: The bond between a child and parent is not about genetic strands but something much thicker than all of that.