Bringing Home Emma James
We had no idea we had planned our Florida vacation during Thunder Beach week—that’s code for 60,000 motorcyclists revving their engines and riding the strip together. I don’t know if this is why we had the beach nearly to ourselves, but it was sunny and gorgeous and such a dream of a time. (And thank goodness for sound machines at night.) It was Blake, Collins, and me, and also the Masons—each of our roommates from college who married the year before we did, and their two girls. It was the day before Collins’ second birthday, and we were spending the morning at Pier Park. We had just hopped off the merry go round when Blake answered his phone. It was 11:30 in the morning, and it was our caseworker. This immediately meant something. She wanted to know if we would be interested in a conference call at 1:30 to discuss a possible placement. A birth mom had chosen us! Ramie caught our conversation immediately after the phone call on her phone, and there’s so much stuttering and hand gesturing happening.
We knew nothing. Nothing about the birth mom or baby—how far along she was, if it was a boy or girl, nothing. We would get all of the information at 1:30. (If you don’t know how our story of adoption began, you can read that here.)
The call came, and we talked with both our caseworker and the caseworker for the birth mom. This conversation was on Thursday afternoon. The baby was due Sunday. And at the end of the conversation, we found out it was a girl. They wanted us to take a few hours to talk and pray before giving them a decision. We did, even though we knew our answer since 11:30 that morning. We drove to Destin that afternoon to buy a coming home outfit.
Our flight was planned for Saturday morning, and they said that was fine. This was the birth mom’s first baby so it was likely she would be late anyway. Our flight was cancelled—there was a storm on the flight route that needed to move. We were rescheduled for Sunday morning.
We had nothing ready at our house for a baby. Granted, we had all of the core things we needed because of Collins, but everything was disassembled and in a closet. We hadn’t even decided which room would become her nursery. But honestly, I was glad for the extra day in Florida. I needed to play with Collins on the beach, knowing our time of just being us was coming to a close. I also knew if we were home, I would try to cram months of preparation into a day—so really, I was glad to be in Florida. I had time with Blake and our best friends. We built a sand castle and ate pizza that day, and I couldn’t think of a better way to prepare for the welcoming of our littlest daughter.
We did get to fly out Sunday morning at 9:00, but while I was packing last minute things, our birth mom went into labor.
The whirlwind was in full swing. (And no, I’m not just talking about Collins and Janie both throwing up on the flight home because of some mild turbulence.) After landing, Blake took Collins home to get settled with the grandparents, and I stopped by someone’s house, who I had only met through church e-mail, to pick up an ice chest full of breast milk. I had sent out two messages to see if there were any moms who had milk they would like to donate. This was something I had prayed about for months. Seven moms responded saying they had milk to give us. This, in itself, was a miracle to me.
After taking clothes out of our beach suitcases and cramming them into a duffel bag and tracking down our car seat (which Blake had to drive to my parents to find), we were ready for the two and a half hour drive to Killeen. After kissing Collins and walking towards the door, she emphatically waved and yelled “bye” until we were out of sight. The door hadn’t even shut behind us yet, and I was sobbing. She waved us off with so much cheer, but this was it—when we came back, it would no longer just be us. She wouldn’t get all of my attention, and I wouldn’t get all of hers. Even the best change in life can bring grief because you always lose something in change.
We didn’t make it far down the road. I realized I never found my billfold I had been searching for in the condo the night before. I had no ID, credit cards, or cash. That should make traveling and adoption a piece of cake. We turned around to get my passport. Time lost.
It was the longest drive of our lives. We tried starting conversation, but we were so anxious—so uncertain of what the next bit of life held for us—so ready to just be there. We stopped at Jimmy Johns because we had barely eaten all day and even then, we ran from the car and then back out again, sandwiches in tow. We were still over an hour away when we got our first picture announcing our girl had been born. Tears filled my eyes because she was so beautiful, eyes open, and it felt so strange being in the car and not there. I’m somewhat amazed we didn’t get a speeding ticket that day.
The caseworker wouldn’t be there. It would just be us walking into the hospital to meet our birth mom, Sierra, for the first time. We would be meeting her grandmother, mom, and boyfriend (not the father) as well. We stopped at an HEB to get her flowers and candy because how do you walk into that room empty handed?
We pull into the hospital parking lot and followed signs to the right entrance. We both wondered if we were even at the right hospital—we were totally going off of what we thought the caseworker told us over the phone during that conference call. Do we just walk in and say We’re here to adopt a baby that was born today? I have a passport and know the birth mom’s first name?
It’s Sunday afternoon, and the hospital is deserted except for one guy who’s walking down the hall slow as molasses while he eats his Subway sandwich. I zip around him walking as fast as I can, having no idea where I’m going. When we get to the Labor and Delivery doors, which are locked, the guy catches up with us and asks if we’re the couple adopting Sierra’s baby. Meet the boyfriend. He led us to the room and opened the door.
There she was—our baby girl, in the arms of the seventeen-year-old girl who had carried her for nine months and just delivered her. We gave her the flowers and candy, I introduced myself to Grandmother, who was sitting a few feet away against a wall, and then I held my baby. I had found out about her just over 72 hours before, and now she was here, and I was cradling her.
Sierra got to choose her own name for Baby Girl, a name that would go on her own birth certificate. We also got to name her, and that name would go on our birth certificate we will receive in court around six months from now. For some reason, I was nervous to voice the name we had picked—like if someone didn’t like it, they wouldn’t like us anymore. When we said Emma James, everyone seemed smitten, even Sierra, and they began calling her by that name, too.
The next 48 hours were primarily spent in the hospital (we even stayed in a hospital room at night), and the whole time, I was trying to pin my emotions. It felt like eternity. Blake and I kept reminding each other we had just been in Florida the day before. It felt so crazy. We were able to keep Emma in our room sometimes and almost through the entire second night, but Sierra needed time with her, so Emma was wheeled back and forth between our rooms several times. Blake and I both felt sick—there were so many feelings filling our minds, and the stakes were high to carry such uncertainty about what could happen between now and getting home. When we were in our room alone, I would cry at any given moment. I was scared of how fast everything was happening. I missed Collins. And then I felt guilty for missing Collins so much when I was here with my brand new daughter. I was sad because this felt different than my experience with Collins. A bond hadn’t been formed yet, but rather a guard, even though I didn’t want it there, because in the back of my mind, I knew everything could change if Sierra changed her mind.
I cried because I couldn’t wrap my mind around why I was still feeling so anxious when God had provided so much.
I had just written about the pain and goodness of waiting the week before.
We had always hoped and prayed Collins would have a brother or sister close in age, around two years apart. The morning before Collins’ second birthday (the morning of the phone call), I watched Collins, Janie, and Georgia play and said I would be sad to go home because I saw how much joy it brought Collins to have a sister.
And then the call came—one of the most surreal moments of my life. I kept thinking there had to be more—an interview or something. But no, we had been picked. After talking with Sierra and her family, they said Sierra, her boyfriend, and her grandmother had each looked through the family profiles separately, and they had each landed on Blake and me. Sierra said she liked that we were young. She felt like we would give Emma the childhood experiences she never got to have. She loved that Emma would have four loving grandparents who live nearby as well as our own siblings. We talked about how we already loved taking Collins to the beach, and now we would get to take Emma, too.
I was amazed at Sierra’s selflessness and courage. Not only did she choose life, but she sacrificed herself to give Emma the best life she could possibly find for her. She held her newborn and felt powerful love towards this little human and still chose to put herself second. I was, and continue to be, humbled in a mighty way by her selfless love for her daughter. What an honor to be the mom she would trust to take Emma home.
And then just continuing to think about the breast milk being donated our way— it all just felt like God was saying, I’m here with you. This feels so fast to you, but we’ve been talking about this a long, long time, you and I, and I’ve been preparing your hearts for eternity.
It was true. Even with Collins, Blake and I had been praying for this day and season for over a year. We prayed for her relationship with her sibling to be a sacred one. It’s what I had to hold on to now when I felt scared about not being able to love both of my daughters well. I had to believe that Jesus was near and our new normal would be far more beautiful than I could imagine.
We spent quite a bit of time in Sierra’s room—both to check on Emma and to spend time getting to know Sierra and her family. Blake and I made food and coffee runs, mainly because we were hungry and thirsty but also because we needed the fresh air, and we needed to hear how the other was doing. We met Sierra’s caseworker for the first time that Monday, and we all spent around half an hour talking over our open adoption agreement.
Open adoption used to scare me. Wanting the best for Emma, though, I see that right now it means letting her know her own story, including her birth mom who loved her as hard as she could and continues loving her in a unique way. I want Emma to know Sierra did everything she possibly could to care for her as her tiny body formed within her, and I want her to know she’s been loved on this earth since the start of her existence. I want Emma to know Blake and I prayed for her long before we knew who she was and that we had been chasing after her before the first piece of paperwork was ever touched with ink. I want Emma to know her story didn’t just begin in the hearts of one set of parents, but in the heart of a young mother, as well.
The 48-hour mark had passed and paperwork had been read and signed. It was time for everyone to go home, so Sierra lifted Emma up to me. I asked for a few minutes alone with just Sierra, Emma, and Blake. Together, we got to pray over Sierra—thanking her for her courage once more and also praying for all the life she has yet to live. And then it really was time to go home.
Emma slept the whole way home, and the drive didn’t feel nearly as eternal, although I couldn’t wait to see Collins. It was almost her bedtime now. Driving home, I was thinking about the timeline of Sierra’s pregnancy. She must have found out she was pregnant in August or early September. Blake and I were in Portland late September when I ended up in the ER for what felt like extreme morning sickness. I had attributed it to anxiety, but I can’t help but think of the divine timing of it all. God is always connecting us to one another, letting us feel and understand each other.
We were almost home, and Blake asked if I was going to cry when we got there. I told him I didn’t think I had any tears left and also claimed my gift in holding back tears when anyone is near. We pulled up to our driveway to find a large Welcome Home, Emma sign and pink balloons lining the drive. There was a present waiting for us on the porch and a couple more on the table as we walked inside. Blake carried Emma in her carrier, and my arms stayed empty for Collins Piper. There were more signs and banners welcoming Emma home, and our families stood waiting to greet us. Collins squealed and ran to me. Scooping her up in front of our families and seeing Emma inside our home with so much love decorating the walls, I couldn’t help but cry tears of joy and relief. We had made it. We were home, and we were a family of four.