November is National Adoption Month and October is the King Family adoption month and today… well today is Paxton’s Gotcha Day. Three years ago the New Orleans Family Court ordered that we be forever a family. It was almost a year and three months to the day that we took legal custody of him that he was officially awarded a birth certificate that had our names on it. This was the first of two adoptions we would complete in the month of October 2014.
We are very open about the process we went through to adopt both of our boys. I am always willing and eager to tell their story to people who are interested in learning more about us and more about how to foster and adopt. Until now I have never written it down. I don’t know what has held me back from writing these stories and sharing them. Maybe it’s fear of peoples reactions because people are so vocal about how they feel about things these days. I am not sure but this year I felt almost compelled to tell you the story of each of my boys and how we became a family in 2014.
My hope is that this story reaches far and wide and that it helps someone. I believe all stories are meant for someone to see so I would encourage you to share ours. This will be the first in several posts I will do over the next month about adoption.
In the summer of 2013 we were busy with Peyton who was almost a year old and working his foster plan. We still were in a level of uncertainty with Peyton’s case and were unsure what was going to happen when we attended his one year hearing in August. The prior summer, before we were placed with Peyton, we had begun working with an attorney and trying to match with a birth mom on our own. We created a book about ourselves, reached out to other adoptive families and started telling our story via social media. However, after we took custody of Peyton we stopped actively looking for a private adoption situation and focused on taking care of him. But we never closed the Facebook page we had created about our adoption journey and it remained open during this time.
One morning in early July I was on the way into work. I was in the lobby waiting for an elevator and my phone rang. It was my friend Ally who was our foster go-to friend. I thought she may have been calling for an update about Peyton’s case. I answered the phone and she said, I have sort of a strange story to tell you. She proceeded to say that she had a friend who knew an attorney who was looking for a family for a one week old baby in the hospital. Mom and baby were fine but Mom didn’t have an adoption plan for the baby because he was born early. This meant that they needed to move quickly with identifying a family as he might have been able to go home as early as the next week. Shock isn’t the best description but I asked her to repeat what she had told me. It just seemed so crazy and I thought I maybe I didn’t really understand what she was telling me. She repeated all the details and asked me if I wanted the attorney’s phone number. I said yes.
I called Justin and he and I discussed the call and what to do next. I asked him to call our personal attorney and see what she thought. I was so emotionally raw at this point I told Justin that I couldn’t deal with it until I knew it was a real situation. I couldn’t do another letdown so I needed him to handle it until the point they actually needed me to be involved. I went about my day and he called me back a few hours later. He had spoken with both our attorney and the mother’s attorney and said the situation was legitimate and that they wanted the mom to talk to us on the phone that evening.
That evening I spoke to the attorney and she told me a few things I needed to know about the situation. She also shared some tips on things I should say, not say and questions I should ask or be expected to answer. About an hour later I got a call from Paxton’s mom. I initially remember thinking that she seemed as nervous as I was but we quickly slipped into an easy and free conversation. I told her about us and our family and our hopes to adopt a child. She told me about herself and where she was from and a little about her son who was still in the NICU. She told me the reasons she wanted to give him an adoptive home. She shared with me the things that were most important to her about the way she wanted him to be raised. I was impressed by how alike we were and how similarly we thought about things. We agreed to meet in a few days after she had some more time to recover and work with the attorney.
I sent her flowers the next day.
Two days later Justin and I found ourselves in the halls of the hospital checking in to see her. I had no idea what to expect. We didn’t even know what she looked like or what the baby looked like at this point. We walked into her hospital room and were greeted by her smile and cheerful hello. She thanked us for the flowers and introduced her uncle and best friend who were both going to attend the meeting. We gave them the book we had created about our adoption journey and again told them a little bit about ourselves. She showed us a few pictures of Paxton in the NICU. He was 4 pounds 1 oz and doing great. We weren’t able to see him or talk to the medical staff about his case yet but they assured us that he was doing well. She had a lot of questions about education and church and community. We talked about how we both hoped to have a relationship after the adoption happened. We really felt like we were on the same page about everything. We were careful to just say our goodbyes and not ask for any commitment from her. We knew she was making the toughest decision of her life and wanted to give her all the time she needed. We left and called both attorney’s to fill them in on what had happened in the meeting. Then we waited.
The next morning we got a call from the attorney. Paxton’s mom had chosen us as the family she wanted to adopt her son. We were excited and sad and nervous and worried because we knew what the next few days would mean. A flurry of forms and meetings and appointments and lawyers and nothing was a done deal until the papers were signed. It would be a minimum of three days before the documents could be signed and we anticipated that it would be longer than that.
Sunday morning we woke up and dropped Peyton off at his weekly visit with his parents and decided to go to Target. Shortly after we walked in Justin’s phone rang. It was the attorney and she was calling to tell us that Paxton’s mom had requested to sign the relinquishment papers that day. They needed to confirm with us again that we wanted to adopt him and said that we could have legal custody as early as that afternoon. We said yes and were instructed not to come to the hospital or contact anyone until we were alerted to by the attorney. We waited to hear. Around 1:00 we got the call that it was done and that Paxton’s mom wanted us to come to the hospital so she could give her son to us. We got in the car and drove to the city.
We met them at the NICU. THey would only let us go in two at a time so she and I went in first. When we got to his room I will never forget how small he was. She held him and just looked at him. I guess she was memorizing his little eyes and face and the way he smelled. She looked at him for a long time before she spoke to me. She asked me to take care of him and protect him and to make sure that I exposed him to both of his cultures. She hugged him and then she handed him to me and told me that she thought I would be a great mom. It was the most real and raw moment I have ever experienced in my life. My arms were full and hers were empty. The magnitude of that moment was not lost on me.
Paxton remained in the NICU for the rest of that month and came home in early August. We settled into life with two kids. But that was shortlived as at the end of August Peyton was ordered to be sent home with his parents by the family court. Just like that he was gone. This is where Pax saved us. I don’t know that we would have made it through this time without him. With Paxton here we had our little family and we were able to focus on him and be happy. FYI, Peyton came back to live with us at the end of October (more on that later).
During this time we were keeping in contact with Paxton’s mom through text messages and emails and a few phone calls here and there. I sent pictures and updates as often as I could. I was raising two kids and working full time and she understood how chaotic everything was. When Paxton was six months old we decided to meet up. We planned to have lunch at one of her friends houses. When we arrived it was immediately noticeable the natural bond between she and Pax. They couldn’t take their eyes off of one another. It was like he knew her and it was the organic sort of bond that I didn’t truly understand until I had Porter. It was a lovely afternoon and we were able to catch up and just have good quality time. We said that we would meet again but sadly this was the last time we saw her.
Throughout the next few months we kept up our texting and calls. At mother’s day I sent her a message about how much the gift of Paxton had meant to our family. How much we appreciated her and loved her for what she had done. We wrote back and forth that night and I sent some pictures. She seemed very happy. Around the time he was turning 11 months I contacted her about when we would meet up again. She responded saying that she would try to work it out. That was the last time I ever spoke to her. When he turned a year my messages started going unanswered. We turned to our attorney to reach out and make sure that nothing was wrong. She called back and said we needed to give her space that she was having a hard time. Paxton turning a year had made her question her decision and she was just dealing with a lot of heavy stuff. I checked back with our attorney over the next few years and the answer was always that we shouldn’t reach out. It was devastating in a way I can’t fully explain. We had expectations of what our life would be with her in it and having a relationship with Pax. It did not turn out that way. We were sad for Pax more than anything. She was an amazing person and we wanted him to know her. Its a loss to his life that he won’t get the opportunity to meet her.
In August of 2014 we filed for Paxton’s legal and formal adoption. We decided to name him Paxton Morgan Atticus. Atticus was the name she had given him at birth. She was such a good mother to him even if it was just for a short time and we wanted to honor her. Paxton was legally adopted at 10 am in the courthouse in New Orleans. Justin, Peyton and I were present along with my parents and our attorney. It was a small ceremony and after raising our right hands and swearing before God and the court he was our son.
The rest is really history. Paxton has changed a lot in the 4 years he has been with us. He has gone from a boy who hardly spoke and was stingy with the smiles to a kid that never stops talking, asking questions and laughing. Although I only knew her for a short time I can see there is a lot of his mother in him. He is deep and understanding and inquisitive and is always taking everything in just like her. He is wiser than a four year old should be and has a special understanding of life. He is special and tough and strong. All the things we hoped and knew he would be.
Looking back it’s always interesting to me to think about what our life would be like without him. Like what if we hadn’t said yes when Ally called us or if we hadn’t said yes when we met his mom. What if she hadn’t chosen us or picked another family? It’s hard to imagine life without him in it because he is such a perfect fit in his place in our family.
He has taught us to be stronger and more vocal and to fight against adversity. His presence has opened our eyes to a new world. I feel like for a long part of my life I was blind and that each of my kids has opened up a new part of my sight. To look beyond what is in front of me and see need. It’s been my honor to learn and grow with them.
Sadly in August of 2016 we received a phone call to tell us that Paxton’s mom had died. I didn’t expect to mourn her the way I did. It was a hard loss. We had always held out hope that she would come back to our family and she would have a relationship with Pax. It’s unfortunate for both of them that they won’t ever get to experience that relationship. She was a special person. Pax would have been better for knowing her. We told him about her death. He asked questions the best a three year old can. He asked if she was with Jesus with Mawmaw and we said yes. We hope to all be reunited again one day.
I wanted to share this story because I want people to know that even adoptions that are considered “easy” are far from it. I don’t say this to discourage families but to encourage them that you are stronger than you know. Answering the call is sometimes the easiest part.
To be continued…