An ‘At-Risk’ Adoption

Dealing with the uncertainties and delays of the adoption process.

As John describes it, he became a daddy the moment he met our son. His heart fell hard, too. Father and son seemed to have an instant connection. We didn’t know at the time that this doesn’t always happen. From that first moment, John was the most hands-on, gentle and loving father I had ever seen. It was so beautiful to watch, and seeing him in that role made me love him even more. He could never get enough time with Daniel.

Incredibly strong feelings of affection, longing, caring and protection replaced the feelings we’d had of just plodding along while we attended the training classes and completed the home study. It was an emotional roller coaster. John and I had been at the bottom, and now we were on cloud nine.

Because we felt sure that we were meant to be Daniel’s parents, we sensed a tremendous urgency to make that happen. Even though we knew intellectually and theologically that God was in control, it was a constant battle to walk that out in a practical way. Sometimes we did well; sometimes we didn’t. It’s hard to be patient when you’re so ready to adopt a child you’ve fallen in love with. That night after our visit with Daniel, John and I agreed that we wanted to adopt him. I still needed to contact the social worker, and I was very, very nervous.

Since I was calling the social worker at night, I expected to get her voice mail and leave her a message. Instead, to my great surprise, I got a live person. My heart was beating fast, and I felt as though the entire future of our family depended on my lobbying abilities at that moment. I had to make the case and make it well.

Her name was Veronica, and though John and I didn’t know it at the time, she would play a huge role in our lives and future.

I apologized profusely for bothering her in the evening, letting her know I only meant to leave her a message. First, I explained that we had met this baby boy who needed an adoptive family, and that we were doing respite care for him. Then I told her that he had really bonded with us, and we wanted to be his parents.

“We already have a few families in mind for him, and he still needs a brain scan,” she explained nonchalantly to me.

My heart sank. Other families? What other families? We already knew and loved Daniel. He knew us. We had bonded.

I started to panic.

“Have you been to your training classes?” she asked, giving me a glimmer of hope.

“Yes! Yes, we’re almost done with training, and our home study is complete,” I quickly responded.

That moment was a forceful reminder of the importance of timely obedience to the call of God. What would Veronica have said if I hadn’t answered yes? But our preparations, combined with Deeanna’s and Debbie’s support, apparently convinced Veronica to consider our plan on the spot. Without ever saying she had changed her mind, she just started talking about the official next steps we needed to take.

Surrendering to God

The call ended well. Veronica exercised due diligence by reviewing all our home study and licensing documents and talking to Deeanna and Debbie. Just days after our conversation, she called to say she was approving the plan to spend the next few weeks transitioning Daniel to our home, where we would proceed with what was called an at-risk adoption.

At risk meant that even though we could proceed with the adoption plan while caring for Daniel in our home, several legal steps were still pending that might jeopardize the adoption. The risk was that the adoption might not work out and that our hearts would break into a million little pieces.

Quite a risk! This at-risk adoption was an unbelievable experience that led John and me into a deeper trust that God was firmly in control. I’m not saying it was easy. We had given our hearts to Daniel, but we still had to surrender to the sovereignty of God because we had absolutely no control over the future. We knew about all the uncertainties of adopting Daniel, but it was impossible to guard our hearts from crushing disappointment if things didn’t work out. Thankfully, God knew our naïveté and vulnerability, and He provided grace and mercy in abundance.

The next few weeks were a blur. The transition plan was to have Daniel gradually spend more time with John and me while he continued living in the only environment he had ever known. Eventually, he would be spending so much time with us that leaving Debbie’s wouldn’t be such a horrible shock to his little system.

I drove 45 minutes each way nearly every day to hold my son, who almost always slept in my arms. I began to hate one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America because I only wanted Daniel home with us and never wanted him to sleep anywhere else ever again. John and I prayed for and worried about him whenever he wasn’t with us.

And then the day came when we would make that drive one last time. No more going back. No more sharing our son. He would finally be home forever. He, and we, would wait no more.

It was a surreal experience. In a few hours, our family of two would be a family of three – even if it wasn’t legal yet.

John and I prayed and gave thanks to God for what was about to happen. As we drove to Debbie’s, we drew closer to each other in our giddiness. When we finally arrived at the house, we quickly packed up Daniel’s things. Debbie seemed conflicted about his leaving, perhaps knowing it was right but feeling sad nonetheless. We thanked her and her family for the role they had played in Daniel’s life and ours.

When John and I got in the car with our new baby boy, just the three of us, we were elated and couldn’t wait to put distance between the past without him and the here and now with him. We had a son! He screamed the whole way home, but that didn’t faze us; we just wished we could make him feel better. We were so excited and a little scared, but mostly just thrilled to truly begin this next phase of life. We had no doubts whatsoever that God had made us a family. We already loved Daniel so much.

We took pictures of the first moment Daniel entered his new home. We were tired. We were happy. We were a family.

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