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Written by: Caeli Duke

A few weeks after TJ and I got home from Texas, I was sharing our story to a Physician’s Assistant.   It is a story I love to tell everyone and anyone. I tell family, friends and even strangers all the details of our journey to become a family. What was different about this story telling was the man’s reaction. He turned to me and said, “Wow, you jumped right in. You didn’t even start with a dog?” I was a little taken back at first, but he was right. It must have seemed like I jumped right in to become a parent. Thinking back, I should have said, “Well, you only heard about the last two months of my journey.”

Bringing TJ into our family has been the most fantastic journey. But it was not a quick journey, nor one that was easily decided. My journey to adopt started many years ago. While everyone knew my wish to be a mother, no one knew that behind the scenes I was doing research, contacting adoption agencies and starting to prepare for my child.   By chance my aunt mentioned that her neighbor, a single woman in her forties, had just adopted a little boy. Under the rouse of “for a friend,” we got the name of the agency and the final lap of my journey began.

I remember driving home from summer school and calling Sarah, my first contact at Haven Adoptions. I felt an instant connection to her- I felt her genuineness and I immediately trusted her. I had talked to other agencies and never felt this level of comfort. I loved that Haven was local and I could meet them face-to-face. It was something that was important to me and took away some of my anxiety.

I have the most supportive mother in the world and being a single mother I know I would need her even more throughout the process. I remember standing in the parking lot after the information meeting with Haven with tears streaming down her face. She felt the same level of comfort and trust with them as I did. The journey, I thought, was coming to an end but I heard a quote so fitting: the last 10% takes 90% of the time. While deciding to adopt was the biggest decision, it was the only the beginning.   Now I had to get home study ready. I rallied the troops. Gathered my support team. Told my inner circle of family and friends. I filled out forms. I got background checks. I answered the questions. I processed. Some made me really think, “Wow, what would I do?” I enjoyed every step, every question, and every form. It was my “pregnancy.” My preparation. It just confirmed what I always thought I knew….I wanted to be a mother.

With my home visit completed, I was ready to be matched the end of September. I remember getting those first few profiles. I felt like I was opening the greatest present ever. Friends and family often asked what it was like. The best comparison I could give them was, well, online dating.   I would get a profile, tell my caseworker I was interested and just wait to see if I was picked.   There was a lot of disappointment, a lot of tears. Did you ever get a great Christmas present that you were so excited to open, only to realize after rereading the tag and that the gift was for someone else? There were a lot of misread tags over the year for me. After every disappointment I realized while I was not picked, someone else was going to add to his or her family and some baby is going to be loved and given a good home.   With those thoughts, it made it easier to get back on the roller coaster and get ready for the next ride.

My final ride started on July 29th when I got the profile for TJ. I remember reading the profile. Getting that feeling of excitement. Making plans for my son. Then I read the birth mother wanted “a married couple with one stay at home parent.” I am the complete opposite…a single, working mother.   Patti must have sensed my hesitation because my phone rang. Patti told me that no matter what it said, we were submitting my profile for consideration because she knew that I felt drawn and connected to TJ. I had a great support system and the best children’s hospitals in the world right in our backyard. TJ was diagnosed in utero with a very serious heart condition but I knew I had the resources, knowledge and support to help him with whatever might come. I wrote the birth mother a letter and sent off my profile to be considered. Like with every other situation, I started to think about what our life would be like. And with a due date of August 10th, I could not help but think about our life together every day. I knew a decision would be made in the beginning of August. On the morning of August 4th, I emailed my mom. I emailed Patti. I called my friends. How could I have not heard yet? The baby was due in one week. I needed to make flight reservations, find a hotel, find out what city in Texas. I was getting nervous and stressed. I was sitting on the beach that afternoon when my phone rang. I figured Patti was just calling to share that she had no information. I was so wrong. That call on Tuesday afternoon started my final lap. I was heading to Texas for the birth of my son. On the beach that day, getting that call, my “happy place” just became my “happiest place.”

The final preparation started. Packing. More paperwork. Flight reservations. Hotel booked. Phone conference with J, the birth mother, and a plan to meet for lunch on Monday and tour the children’s hospital where TJ would be taken immediately after birth. What is it they say about “best laid plans?” Well, TJ surprised us with plans of his own.   We were flying out to Texas Sunday night. I got an email Sunday morning that J’s water broke. This was her sixth pregnancy; I was never going to make it in time, or so I thought.

I tried to get on every earlier flight. I had no luck. I landed, as planned, in Texas around 11:15 and made it to the hospital around midnight. J was still in labor and we spent the next eight hours getting to know it other, sharing stories and even our medical histories. At 8 a.m., there was little change and I headed home to shower, eat and nap. Again, TJ had other ideas.  Even before birth TJ was keeping me from getting a nap in! I got to the hotel, showered and ate. I had just laid down to take a nap and the phone rang. At 10:59, I was told to get back to the hospital as quickly as possible. Not sure how but the taxi showed up within three minutes and 11:22 I walked back into the delivery room, just as J started to push. TJ came into the world at 11:28 and I was there to cut the cord. He waited for me every step of the way.

A lot happened over the next three days.   Doctors stated TJ was perfectly healthy and what originally was expected to be a three week to two month stay in the hospital quickly became three nights. J and I spent a lot of time together, learning more about each other. I met two of her children, the cutest little girls in the world. She is a great mother and birth mother. J thanked me for becoming TJ’s mother and I continue to thank her for allowing me to BE TJ’s mother.   It was a wonderful three days.

And now as we are approaching TJ’s first three months on earth and a lot has changed. I would not change a single step on my journey.   TJ does have some heart issues and we are working with doctors through that. But he also has the most wonderful smile when he sees me and such a pleasant disposition…and did I mention he is one of the cutest babies in the world? Adoption is a wonderful journey. I like to explain it as a roller coaster but it is one heck of a ride. All the ups and downs, and I had a lot of downs, are worth that first moment you hold your child in your arms. Having TJ home with me has made my journey worth every step.   And while our journey is not complete, we are just getting on a different ride, one hopefully a little more like the Merry Go Round. “Adoption…not a second choice, a fallback option or because you can’t have “your own”, but wholly believing you are seeking to bring home the very child God created with you and your home in mind, fully equipping you to be the very part He created you to be.”