Adopting Emma

“In as much as you’ve done it to the least of my breathren, you’ve done it unto me.” – Jesus

There are many disabled foster children who need a home.  Our biological son, Gabriel, has Down syndrome. Our daughter, Emma, was adopted by us at the age of 6 weeks. I was a Trophy Husband, errr, Stay-at-Home Dad for several years and took care of Emma until she went off to daycare so I know something about the joy Adoption & Foster-care can bring.

Below are blog posts I wrote about Adopting Emma several years ago. These are the foundation for my memoir “Adopting Emma: The Journeys of Cupcake and Cracker” that should be published in the next two years.

I hope you find them to be interesting, amusing, and perhaps, encourage you to consider doing for “the least” of our children.

There are so many children with multiple disabilities that need a home.

Adopting Emma

Sam, Gabriel, and Baby Emma

Sam, Gabriel, and Baby Emma

We’ve always wanted siblings for Gabriel and I’d always thought that about 4 would do the trick. As the second oldest of 7 I’ve always loved kids, and figured that many of my own would surround Gabriel with love while he is alive and surround me with love when I bury him – my most special boy. Morbid yes, but since he has Down syndrome his life expectancy is much shorter than mine. The other down sides to Down syndrome being that he can’t biologically be a Dad and that he won’t ever share my intellectual life. Ah well, more about that later.

As Gabriel reached 5 years old we decided to try and adopt a 3-5 year old girl – someone about his developmental age. My wife couldn’t stay home to have and raise a baby as she was in an intense healthcare profession. We figured through adoption we could choose the age, ethnicity (Hispanic, Black, or both), and gender while taking a risk on having another kid with special needs. While the process through the County of San Diego can take as little as 6 months, two and a half years later we finished the paperwork. We weren’t ready until we were ready, and then it got done.

By 2004, we were starting to wonder whether the right child would ever become available. Most older kids in the system either had siblings or serious issues like molestation or violent behaviors that we didn’t want to risk exposing Gabriel too.

Then, in late March, my wife received a call from our Adoption worker who said that a lot of 1 year olds were going to be entering the system and asked whether we were interested in taking one. My wife said, “Sure,” and when I returned home I said that we might as well take a baby. One week later we turned in some updated paperwork and received a call saying they’d found one for us……

Adoption 2: THE DAY WE MET HER

Adopting Emma: The Day We Met HerEmma’s Emergency Foster Mom, My Wife, Emma (Ashley), and our Adoption Worker

One week later on April 1st, 2004, we went to the “Telling” to learn and decide to take or not to take the baby! Our worker had already given us some information on baby “Ashley” (Emma’s birth name) via the phone. I was worried to say the least. First of all, Ashley was not legally free for adoption – in other words we’d have to be Foster Parents until the Birthmom’s parental rights were terminated and the adoption was finalized. She could get Ashley back! Second, Ashley had been exposed to Meth and I was worried about the long term effect on her development. Worse yet, my wife had initially said she did not want to accept a baby with either of these issues. Finally, I had this image of adopting a Hispanic girl with long hair who would speak Spanish with Esperanza – and Ashley was a little Black girl. (My wife and the workers had gushed over the polaroid photo of her, but I was not at all convinced that she was cute.) I was going to raise THIS little girl – I’d spent enough time on Adoption Forums to hear worst case stories about everything.

My wife’s enthusiasm took over. Ashley was appearantly healthy, eating and sleeping well, and had few drug withdrawl symptoms. The Birthmom was very young, had grown up in a foster house with problems, and had shown little interest in her baby – “statistically,” we were assured, the odds were 95% against her “reunifying.” My wife thought it sounded good and then all the women in the room started gabbing about random topics while I sat, feeling kind of lost. “Are we doing this?” I asked. “Are you sure you don’t want to wait over the weekend and talk about it,” said the Worker. “Honey?” I asked, then shifted into project mode, “Ok, are we going to take her Yes or No?” “Yes,” I looked at my wife, “Yes,” she said. “It’s up to you,” said the Foster Mom. “Are your sure,” said the worker. “Yes, were taking her, what do we sign!” The confidence in my voice in no way matched what I was feeling inside.

“You might as well see her then,” said the Foster Mom, heading out the door to get Her.

“My BABY!” Esperanza lunged at Ashley, cuddling her. Stunned, I just sat, thinking, “What the hell did we just do…my Baby? Who is this kid?”

After not disturbing my wife’s precious moment of fantastic joy, I kind of edged over to look. Short hair with a bald spot. Flat nose. Large gap between eyes. Was this evidence of fetal alcohol syndrome!?!?!?!

I smiled for the photos and got into it enough that when they worker asked, “So when do you want to have her in your home….sometime before the next court hearing in three weeks would be good,” I enthusiastically said, “Well how about Monday, or Sunday, or how about tomorrow!” The worker about fell out of her chair.

Few people make this kind of lifechanging decision in 15 minutes and then take the baby the next day.

Adoption 3: BABY GO HOME!

adoption-baby-go-homeLeaving “Ashley” with her Foster Mom, we drove immediately for the nearest BabysRUs – except I couldn’t remember where the hell we were going. I think I was having some kind of strange panic attack….like when you’ve had way too much Starbucks and are shakey and can’t think straight. We bought a ton of stuff, although I would have been content to just sit and stare off into space in those nice rockers – and then picked up Gabriel and headed to Ashley’s foster house. Most people have months to think about having a baby and picture it. I had about 3 hours and a drive down a San Diego freeway.

Spending a few hours with Ashley helped. Taking pictures, holding her, half paying attention to bottle and feeding routines kind of got me out of my stupor. Gabriel liked the baby – and would until the next day when she cried – provoking him to shout, “Baby Go Home!” whereupon he locked himself in the dog cage and refused to come out. It was so exciting but I was worried about everything including whether we should change her name. Fools on April 1st that we were (not really ready to adopt for reasons I won’t go into here), and with many questions unanswered, we left her about 6 at night.

The next morning my wife went back to another 80 hour work week, and about 10 a.m. on April 2nd, I had a baby.

Adoption 4: BABY IS HOME!

adoption-emma-comes-homeOur family and friends were thrilled. My brother Adam and his wife who were expecting and no doubt wanted to “try out” the baby – and about 20 other people showed up the next day.

2 a.m. “waaaaaa. waaaaaaaaa.” We’re on the floor next to the bed. Diaper is full. I’m trying to change it with only the light shining under the door, and the only things I can see are the whites of these big little eyes staring at me wondering, “Who are you?”

The first days are hard to remember now – the continued propogation of the human race depends on the erasure of difficult memories by sleep deprivation – but I remember feeling my answer to that look. I was the only person in the world that really mattered to this little baby. If I didn’t feed her, change her, hold her, no one else would….she was completely dependent on Me.

For months thereafter, I would sit her on my legs, facing me, and stare into her eyes, telling her I was her Daddy that everything would be fine – and in the process convincing myself that this was true…and then making it true as well.

Adoption 5: BABY CARE

adoption_baby-careAlthough she looks more like a little froggy in this photo, Emma reminded me of those honey bears and “Emma Bear” quickly became her nickname.

We use it to this day, as in, “Where’s Bear? The Bear is hungry. No Bear!”

Every baby needs a name, and the adoption folks said that giving an adopted baby a new name is an important part of the “claiming” process. We were back and forth on this one non-stop for a day. My wife didn’t like “Ashley Monet _______.” It was too White. “Anaya” sounded pretty and was on the first photos until I remembered it was the last name of an well known local activist. Then “Emma” popped up. We’d always liked it and it was a family name and it was simple….although I have to admit when strangers ask her name I’ve occassionally said, “Shaneequa” (like in that Martin Lawrence tv show) just to watch their faces contort.

I thought we should keep “Ashley” as her middle name to give some recognition to her birth, and there it was, “Emma Ashley Ingersoll-Weng”

…or at least it sort of was because for weeks I’d have to refer to her to in the presence of her Birthmom and the social workers as Ashley. Part of our role as foster parents was to support the reunification of Ashley/Emma with her BirthMom and we were told that – although it was common practice – renaming before adoption finalization could be part of an argument for an appeal.

The rest of caring for Emma – except for the exhaustion of getting up every two hours – was easy.

Diapers and formula bottles are simple compared to the demands of running a non-profit organization which I had done until several months prior to getting Emma. I’d sit dozing or watching tv, even then, putting her in position so she’d think I was staring at her. Within a few months she and I were eating breakfast 5 days a week at the Chula Vista Country Waffles on H and 3rd Streets. The senior citizen breakfast crowd and the waitresses and 4 cups of coffee keeping me from feeling isolated and completely exhausted.

If you’re in town stop by and tell them Sam and Emma and Gabriel say hello. Then order the ham and eggs…

Adoption 6: THE ADJUSTMENT OF BROTHER

adoption-baby-go-home1Gabriel was so concerned about his baby sister. For the first week he was very excited about being a big brother, and friends and family tried to make sure he wasn’t overlooked…

….but then she stole Daddy’s attention.

I had quit work several months B.E. (Before Emma) in order to focus on Gabriel. For years, we’d had maybe 15 minutes of quality time with him a day, and I was always thinking of work and other things even when playing with him. Now, just as I was wrenching my life through a slump from workaholicism to being a better dad and husband, along came Emma. The lack of sleep completely wiped me out and I felt I needed to focus on her to ensure she was bonded to me strongly.

Gabriel didn’t seem to resent his sister or act out against her however. Rather, he would be very sweet and concerned about the baby. Still, with less of my time and focus his stubborness and outbursts increased. It was hard for me to get him ready for school in the morning. Brush Teeth. Forget it! Far to frequently, he had bread and catsup for breakfast – he wanted it, I assure you.

We consulted a behavioral therapist – free through the San Diego Regional Center – who gave us some good advice which I never really did follow.

Here’s mine to parent’s who are struggling with these issues….

1. Wait it out. When you have more sleep you’ll be able to do more.

2. Make a morning and afternoon schedule in big letters for the non-baby-sibling. Yes, kids like structure, but the purpose is to help you remember what you’re supposed to do for the older kids and focus on them. (I’d go down the list of the basic i.e. eat breakfast, pack lunch, etc….with Gabriel and ignore Emma who would play on the floor.)

(Of course, now that I’ve written this, I suppose I should do it again. We moved and the whiteboard markers are still in the garage.)

Now, this one is controversial but many stay-at-home-Dads recommend it….Drink. Seriously. Many of us are lost in our own heads and have no clue how to sit and play with our children…focusing on what they are doing in that moment – as opposed to other chores, news on the tv, problems at work, or other psychological or even physiological weaknesses. Have a beer or a glass of wine and you might find yourself letting go of enough of your problems to be the Dad you want to be. In my case that meant building great towers of blocks, wrestling like a madman, and singing Barney at the top of my lungs while marching round the coffee table.

Gabe loved it…and still does…and I don’t need a drink anymore.

Adoption 7: LOVING THE BIRTHMOM

adoption_loving-the-birthmom-patriciaPatricia gave birth to Emma, Feb. 18, 2004. I can sure see the resemblance.

This is an expanded chapter based on the comments on the original blog post…
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The worker gave us the awful personal history of the Birthmother, Patricia, and the awful circumstances of Emma’s birth. My first question was, given that we were terrified that we’d bond and then have to give the baby back, how likely did the social worker think that was? 95%-99% unlikely. Young kid, on drugs, no home to speak of, herself growing up in a foster home with a very old lady who was sick (and about to die) of stomach cancer.

Still, when we found out Patricia would attend a “visitation” we suddenly had a wave of panic. (Even two weeks into having Emma, my wife and I were in a store, and we started thinking about losing her, and both of us teared up.)

My wife could not stand to go. I think she was
angry at Patricia and uncomfortable, however, I’ve worked with a lot of teenagers and can’t stand letting things just happen without my knowing exactly what is going on.

That first visit was very strange. I walked in carrying Emma, big smile on my face, and said, “Hey, look who’s here!” Patricia kind of muttered and stared at the floor. Her own adopted mother in contrast was very friendly. We sat in a conference room while we chatted a bit and then I said, “would you like to hold her?”

They kept referring to “Ashley” as “our/her” baby…and I had to quell my own defensive reaction. Patricia was uncomfortable at first and didn’t know how to hold or feed the baby – not surprising – and her mother kept bossing her around.

After another visit like this – but at a Burger King – she started to warm up a bit. I knew all the same music and teenage stuff that she was into, and her own adoptive mother liked me a lot. But then she disappeared and stopped coming. The worst thing was that at the last scheduled visit she didn’t show and I went to her house a block or so away and her sister said that Patricia had been there a few hours before. (She later admitted to me that she went and got high instead.)

The social workers told me to just give it up and not worry about it, but I went and tracked her down at a nearby gym and then visited her at a recovery house she was staying at. (Note that foster parents do not take babies to strange neighborhoods, with people they don’t know to visit drug addicted Birthmoms, but I’ve worked in neighborhoods with a lot of different people and figured I could handle it.)

It was a nice house with nice recovering addicts, and we talked for a few hours. I liked her. Turns out Meth users act as normal as anyone until they get high and they disappear. She was just a kid on drugs, with no support system, education, or skills, or perspective, and I’ve felt really sorry for her that ‘drugs’ can come in between a Mom and a Baby which is the most powerful bond on earth…except for that of me and my baby of course. By the end of the visit she was back and forth on whether to complete her services or just voluntarily let us adopt Emma.

The social workers were surprised I’d found Patricia and got in contact with her. Again she didn’t show up at the visit and no one has seen her since. (She wasn’t even able to follow through on making a phone call to the worker, treatement program, or me.) Her sister, Raven, saw her once and told her that I’d been by to visit several times, but she said, “I know,” and didn’t seem to care. Her legal rights were terminated around May, and then our adoption finalized in June.

I wanted to be able to tell Emma that I did everything possible to keep a healthy connection between her and her Birthmom, despite the fact that Patricia disappeared. I meet a lot of people who do not want to do this. They look at the bottom line, which is that Patricia fed her baby drugs, could have maimed her for life, or killed her and thus has no claim to her and should not be allowed near her ever again! I can sure understand and respect that opinion, and take seriously the advice that if Patricia does resurface in jail or addicted, etc…that I should Not allow Emma contact with her at all, or only through an intermediary like the social services agency. Would you let your teenager hang our with or correspond with someone who was on drugs or in prison? Probably not.

We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I’ll always be honest and open with Emma, and if she is mature enough to handle what she wants, I’m sure I’ll be supportive in any way possible. Most adoptive kids always wonder – what happened, why didn’t she want me? – and I hope to have as many answers as Emma needs.

My hope is that I’m a good enough parent that any “hole” or “ache” she has in her life will be small and won’t matter much at all.

Who do you think Emma’s real “Mother” is?

Adoption 8: BONDING WITH MAMA

adoption-bonding-with-mommyEmma’s Mommy

The day we met Emma, my wife, just lunged at her squealing, “my baby!” while I just kind of stood there. During the first week, “claiming” Emma was weird for me. Was she mine? “My daughter??” Can I kiss and hug her? I had to change a little girl’s diaper for the first time.

Maybe that’s what created the bonding between she and I – the nonstop staring at each other and my being soley responsible for her 24/7 – but within a week or so there was no question that she was ‘mine’.

This took considerably longer for my wife. She was wiped out from long hours at work and just didn’t build up a lot of time with Emma for months. She was frustrated by her lack of feeling really close to Emma the same way she felt about our biological son. Understanding that this takes time didn’t help much. A year and almost a half later of course, Emma is very much her little girl, although she still has an extra special connection with Gabriel (www.downwithgabe.blogspot.com)

So if you’re concerned about your own situation just think like I do – we have about 17 more years with this kid in our house and a lot of time to do things right and be very happy…

…and a few years later I’ll hopefully get grandbabies!!!

Adoption 9: BABY BEAR

adoption-baby-bearEverybody needs a nickname, right, Emma Bear!

People always remind me of something, and Emma reminded me of one of those little Honey Bears. Gabriel’s nicknames had been everything from Butterball, to Bubby, to Bubzilla, to Gabers. “Bubzilla” came about because we had called him “Bubby” – it’s a common Jewish nickname but then he hissed like a lizard or Godzilla instead of cried like waaaaa, so we combined the two into “Bubzilla.”

“Bear” just stuck for Emma so there it was, “Emma Bear.” We still call her Bear as much as we do Emma, for example, “Where’s Bear. No Bear! The Bear is hungry. It’s great fun although she’s starting to outgrow it as she gets older.

She was so tiny – about 10th percentile in height and weight. She’s up now closer to the 50th. She does have big hands and feet so maybe she’ll be tall like her biological aunt rather than short like her biological mom. No one has ever see the guy Patricia says was the biological father so who knows about him.

Adoption 10: RACE…CUPCAKE & CRACKER

adoption-cupcake-and-crackerI’ve never felt uncomfortable having a Black/brown Baby..except that I’m very aware that people notice us. I prefer a life that is different or interesting and full of good stories than a “typical” life. As my brother said when we adopted her, “You sure do things the hard way.” He did feel very self-conscious holding her at the park one day.

In fact, I’ve used our “racial” differences to enlighten, entertain, and inform, the same way I did with our son who has Down syndrome. I’ve never taken offense to questions, such as, “Is she yours?” My typical response, “Well, my wife says she is…..but, we have a friend Emma looks like…..she wouldn’t lie to me would she?” and then I watch their jaws drop as they’re thinking something along the lines of “you poor dumb bastard.”

When my little cousin, who is white, said, “She looks like a cupcake with chocolate frosting on top,” I responded, “well, if she’s cupcake, I’m cracker.”

A lot of Black folks look at her because she’s such a doll, and I like to lean over and say, “I know what you’re wanting to know…” implying that their wondering is she my bio/or adopted or is my wife Black….and then I say, “you wanna know how such an ugly guy ended up with such a beautiful girl!”

I figure that by sharing our story – which is good – the people we meet will be interested in adopting, or say good things about it to people they know who are considering adoption. Just like I tell our story about our son because I want people to know that having a kid with Down syndrome can be wonderful in many ways.

Crackers and cupcakes are both good!

More about this later…

Adoption 11: NO HOOCHIE OUTFITS

adoption-no-hoochie-outfitsWhen Emma got her ears pierced I ran away!

My wife, who’s Mom is from Mexico and who grew up there where they do such things, insisted on piercing Emma’s ears. When we got to the store, I handed Emma to her and fled – not wanting to be associated with the procedure. She bawled and then looked adorable, although she got us back by losing the real diamond earings within a few weeks. Since then we’ve learned to put cheap ones on her and they look just fine.

My wife swears Emma will dress properly?!? conservatively?!?! I’ve stated that I do not care. If she wants Hootchie/revealing outfits I’ll buy them for her if for no other reason than to bug my wife. Ha Ha! She of course, says I will change my mind on that one! Posted by Picasa

It’s now three years since I posted the above text on the original Blogspot blog. I’ll fill it in as time permits. At any rate I’ll start posting on my blog regularly with categories for Emma and Gabriel. Oh there are more photos and one important post about “When Parents Screw Up” down below…

Adoption 12: FAVORITE KID?!?!
adoption-best-buddy-gabrieladoption-my-loveadoption-prefer-some-meatsadoption-birth-families-and-open-adoption

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adoption 13: MY LOVE
Adoption 14: I’D PREFER SOME MEATS

COMING SOON

Adoption 15: BIRTH FAMILY, OPEN ADOPTION
Adoption 16: FRUSTRATING PROGRESS
Adoption 17: HAPPY 1st BIRTHDAY
Adoption 18: SPITTIN IMAGE, except for the image
Adoption 19: NO HORROR STORY HERE
Adoption 20: JOY OF THE UNEXPECTED
Adoption 21: BYE BYE FRIENDS
Adoption 22: WHO’S YOUR FAMILY

Adoption 23: WHEN YOUR PARENTS SCREW-UP

adoption-when-parents-screw-upMy Dad’s love for my kids, and their love in return, makes me very happy.

Our parents didn’t provide for us in some crucial ways….emotionally and in terms of physical security. (Much more to this another time.) Focusing on work and other interests, made ignoring my own weaknesses as a Father and Husband easy for a time.

They became hard to ignore when my kids started reflecting them right back at me!

My theory is that parents can make up for their screwups when their kids (like me) become adults and have kids in three ways. (My Dad in the photo above has done a great job of this.)

1. Parents should always be willing to apologize whenever their children want….and admit their shortcomings.

2. Parents should be willing to talk in detail about their own struggles so their adult children can identify similar patterns in their own lives, understand the causes, and do things differently.

3. Parents should act differently – better – with their grandchildren. Few things make me happier than watching my Dad love my own kids who I love more than anything in the world. It is even more important for parents who emotionally abused or neglected their own children to unconditionally love and be emotionally available for their grandkids. This is very healing for their own children.

On Dr. Phil a few years back he was talking to a woman and her mother who had done a terrible job of parenting. The mother’s only response was, “It’s in the past, I can’t doing anything about it.” Bullshit. It was very much in the present. Her daughter, sitting beside her was in tears, and all the mother had to do was turn to her and say, “I’m sorry. I love you.” and give her a hug….but she couldn’t even do that. Her kid will yearn for that for the rest of her life. No matter what Dr. Phil says, few people can “move on” from wanting unconditional love from their parents. Understanding that they are “crazy”, “sick” (like alcoholics), or “did/do the best they could/can” doesn’t change that.

I wonder if Emma, when she’s older, will always have an ache for her BirthMom’s love.

MORE COMING SOON

Adoption 24: A CHANGED MAN

Adoption 25: BLACK BABIES AND WHITE TOYS

Adoption 26: Daddy, Do My Hair

Adoption 27: SPANKING THE BABY

Adoption 28: KICKIN IT WITH COUSING JORDAN

Adoption 29: AT OUR NEW HOUSE

Adoption 30: ADOPTION DAY!

Adoption 31: FROM THE BENCH

Adoption 32: CONSIDER SOCIAL WORK

Adoption 33: THE FUTURE OF EMMA