Many people have been (not so kindly) asking how they couldn’t have known, or why the secretary needed parental leave. And, as with most things parenting, the new dads are being judged.
But I know quite well just how many surprises can be associated with adoption. The possibility of twins is among the many, many situations that adoptive parents must consider as they complete an adoption home study, consult with their social worker(s), adoption agency and/or adoption lawyer. For this, and any number of other scenarios, there are multiple forms to sign and boxes to check.
Still, as adoptive parents will tell you, no matter how much you anticipate or try to prepare, the adoption process is full of curveballs.
My husband Torey and I have adopted two children. Both were newborns (but not twins!) when they were placed in our care. They’re now 4 and 1.
Each adoption process was similar and yet totally unique. Remarkable. Beautiful. And life-changing.
Thanks to adoption, like any parents, we’ve been able to experience the happy, and sometimes unhappy, small surprises of childhood — skinned knees and stomach bugs, new words and unforeseen interests, favorite colors, favorite cartoons. Starting sentences with “actually.” Ending the day with a weighty question.
And for adoptive parents, some surprises are bigger than others. One of our adoptions was an “emergency placement.” This is when a mother chooses adoption for her baby in the hospital or perhaps even days or weeks after her baby’s birth.
Upon matching with a birth family and getting “the call” in the late afternoon one random Tuesday, our adoption agency expected us to arrive at the hospital — in another state — by the next morning. Like any parent, we would move mountains to be there for our would-be child.
Months prior, we prepped a “go bag” for such a scenario. But with a newborn, of course, it’s bags — plural. We packed our car to the roof with baby essentials: infant car seat, stroller, Pack-n-Play, bouncer, bottles, diapers, pacifiers, and onesies from preemie to 3-month size. In hindsight, there were lots of nonessentials, too, but we were running on adrenaline. We hit the road, booking a hotel en route.
The next 24 hours were a bit of a blur and very surreal. But what a wonder. We’d spend the next one and a half weeks living in a hotel room and then an Airbnb, before we got the interstate clearance to return home to D.C. with our baby. There is no sweeter homecoming.
About half of adoptions handled by our agency are emergency placements. Our other adoption was a “planned placement.” The process is essentially the same, but the timeline isn’t as short as an emergency placement.
As our social workers explained, many expectant parents feel more secure going through their options and getting to know adoptive parents during their pregnancy. But for other expectant parents, we were told, planning can be incredibly painful or impossible. Understandably, making the difficult choice to place a child may take longer. In some cases, they might realize, days or weeks after birth, that they’re not ready to parent, and then seek an emergency placement.
We don’t know the details of the Buttigieges’ adoption. But as soon as they announced their happy news on social media, there was an outpouring of support and a colorful rainbow of family photos shared by other adoptive parents, reflecting on their own journeys: the piles of paperwork, the angst of waiting, the anxiety around finalization, the excitement of that first meeting and the countless moments of joy that follow.
Adoptive parents are also quite familiar with the many questions and comments about adoption from onlookers. The unsolicited opinions and nosy questions, even from strangers, can be astonishing.
My husband and I are deeply proud of our family. And like many others before us, we’ve happily stepped into our roles as ambassadors for adoption, offering referrals and counsel to other “waiting families.” But we are also fiercely protective of our children’s adoption stories. These are their stories to share — or not share — someday. That’s why the details will remain untold here.
Likewise, we are fiercely protective of our children’s birth mothers. These women have blessed and transformed our lives. They did something more difficult than most of us will ever have to face. And there are simply no words that capture the depth of our gratitude for them.
When we are asked about our family or our adoptions, if we sense even a hint of judgment or prying, the inquisitor better be prepared for a very curt response: “What makes you ask?” That typically results in a surprised look and a quick shift in conversation. If only that were possible for the Buttigieges.
Sadly, what’s not been surprising in recent days is the utterly ridiculous sniping over the secretary’s parental leave. (The man has newborn twins!)
Adoptive parents and same-sex couples who become parents have long battled these shortsighted views of parental leave and parental roles. Such inanity not only exposes prehistoric notions of fatherhood, it also wrongly suggests that only women should manage children and associated domestic duties. Haven’t we moved beyond that?
I hope the Buttigieges are not distracted by such nonsense. These early days, post-placement, are some of the most memorable and important for bonding, no matter how a child arrives into a parent’s life.
As they get their bearings, and hopefully some sleep, I wish the Buttigieges — and all new parents — a lifetime of happy surprises.
Some may be big. The best ones are small.
Mike Carter-Conneen is a former WJLA-TV journalist and now communications director for a climate tech company. He and his husband are adoptive fathers of two children in Takoma Park, Maryland.
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