Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Adoption Story

I realized, in the past few weeks, that many of you don't know that I'm adopted. Some of you may. It comes up in my conversations (especially when relating to diabetes) quite a bit. Since Elizabeth Arnold, who I've gotten to know on Twitter, and more recently, in her new blog, is adopting, I thought I'd share my story with all of you.
To save on confusion in my story, any reference to mom, dad, or parents refers to my adoptive parents. Any time I am referring to my biological family, I will use the term "birth" or "biological".

My parents met, and were married in southern California. Both had spent a majority of their childhood, and all of their adult life in California. When they married, my dad already had a son from a previous marriage and my mom and dad were unable to have children. My mom wanted a child.

At the time, they were attending Calvary Chapel in Downey, California. Calvary had just started an adoption ministry called House of Ruth. Years later, I would write to the director, Karyn Johnson. She told me I was one of the first adoptions that House of Ruth helped to facilitate.
My mom and dad never hid the fact that I was adopted. I always knew. My mother had a cross-stitched picture that she kept on my wall in my bedroom. I still have it. It was of a mother holding an infant. The poem under it reads:

Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone
But still, miraculously, my own
Never forget for a single minute,
You didn't grow under my heart
But in it.

That's how I always felt. My mom and dad told me how special I was. Because they got to pick me. That someone loved me enough to give me to my mom and dad, who could take care of me better and love me more. As a child, that made me feel wonderful.

As I grew older, I learned a more about the story behind my adoption. It's never that simple, is it? When we are children, a child-like terminology can explain it all. As an adult, the story and details behind it make it so much more special.

My parents signed up on a list of adoptive parents through House of Ruth. Shortly after that, my parents moved to Tennessee. My father had spent his early childhood in Tennessee and still had family here. He and my mother moved and began their lives here, while waiting to hear something about a baby.

My mother had prayed and believed that God had promised her a baby girl. But it was 3 years and several let downs before I would enter the picture. And even my entrance was filled with drama. My mom tells me there were several birth mothers who pulled my parents' profile. They would be all excited....up to the point they found out that the baby would be living in Tennessee. I'm not sure, but I think there were people who still believed that there was no indoor pluming here.... and that we never wore shoes. (Totally not true, by the way...I have had indoor pluming my whole life. And we do wear shoes...most of the time ;P )

But my parents kept praying. And my mom kept believing that she'd get her baby girl.

When my birth mother and her family contacted House of Ruth, I believe the fact that I would be far away from California was a positive for them. My parents had little time to prepare for me, if I have it timed correctly in my head. My birth mother was in her 6th month before she told anyone she was expecting.

The the surprise. I came a month early. I was sick. Very sick. When the doctors called my parents, they told my mother not to bother flying to California because I wasn't going to make it. I had a valve in my heart that wasn't working properly. They were flying me from Los Alamitos General Hospital in Orange County, to Long Beach where there was a more capable NICU.

After talking with the doctor, she told him that she'd be on the first plane out of Nashville because God had promised her a baby girl and she wasn't going to lose me now. She said "God's working through your hands, doctor. She'll be okay."

The story goes that the doctor, a known atheist, got on the helicopter and informed the flight nurses that they'd better get a move on because "Ladies, God is apparently working through my hands today. Let's go take care of this baby." My mom said when she finally got to the hospital in California, that all the nurses came out of the back to see "the lady that had made the atheist doctor talk about God." I've always just thought it was a wonderful example of my mother's strong faith in God.

At the hospital, they were trying to use a new drug to get my heart to start working correctly. If that failed, they were going to have to do heart surgery. But the drug worked. I was in an incubator for 17 days. In the hospital for a little longer than that. The picture below is of me at 3 weeks old. The bear next to me was a gift from my birth mother. I still have it. I always thought I was an UGLY baby. My head was HUGE and kind of wrinkly. I think I looked like a little alien. Mom says I was beautiful (of course) and that I grew into myself very quickly.

My parents took me home to Tennessee. I am pretty sure that my mom sent pictures a few times. And when I was 4 years old and diagnosed with diabetes, my mom said she contacted someone to find out if T1 ran in the family. To their knowledge, it didn't.

For a long time, I don't think there was any contact. Then, when I was about 15 or 16, my mom was contacted about my birth mother wanting to meet me. My sister was still a baby, and I wasn't going to go on my own. But by the time I turned 18, we were contacted again. I agreed to go. I spoke with my biological grandmother on the phone and she sent me a collection of pictures of my birth mother, my aunts, their husbands and children. Some were of my birth mother and her sisters when they were younger. It was interesting. I could see myself, somewhat in those pictures.

I started college in the fall of 2000. For my fall break, I flew to Idaho (where the family was now living). It was only my second time on a plane (not counting my flight from California to Tennessee when I was a baby). It was my first time ever flying alone. My dad was a little worried about me going. My mom wasn't. I'll never forget the conversations I had with both of them that day.

That morning, I had a complete melt down. I was terrified. Of what? I'm not sure. I lay in my bed crying. I begged my mom not to make me go. She said to me, "You've blessed my life for 18 years, Cara Elizabeth. I'm your mother. I'll always be your mother. But you need to go be a blessing to these people too."
I went. Willingly. My dad drove me to the airport. This was all pre 9-11, so my dad went with me to the gate. He sat in the chair and didn't say a whole lot. He usually doesn't say a whole lot. But that day he said, "Promise you'll come back. I don't want you to go out there and not come home." All I could do was hug him and let him know I'd be back. I'm my daddy's baby. I had to let him know no one could take his place.

I spent 4 or 5 days with them (I don't remember exactly; it's been 11 years!). Stepping off the plane walking into the arms of the people who I share DNA with was surreal. Over the time there, I met my birth mother, her mother, my two biological aunts, their husbands and 3 first cousins. All along, I found little things (and big things) that were like them. Some things I would have never considered genetic and after meeting them, I think they might be.

I'm a lefty. There were other lefties in the family (although my dad and niece are lefties, too, so that could go w/ genetics, or learned...). There were two teachers (I have a degree in education). My biological grandmother and I had a very similar taste in books and colors. At night, I take a bottle of water, or something to drink w/ me and sit it by my bed. Sometimes I may drink it. Sometimes I may not. But its there if I want it. I found out that everyone in my immediate, biological family does the same thing. In my family, I don't know of anyone who does this.

Overall, my trip was wonderful. I learned so much about my "other" family. It was a fantastic experience in so many ways and is something I will never, ever forget, or regret. I've not been back to visit since, but I stay in contact by phone with my biological mother, and on the internet with other various family members.
Many people have asked if I consider my biological family as part of my family. In many ways I do. But my true family, the family that I will always consider my family is the family who raised me. They took me in willingly. They loved me. They cared for me through this lovely chronic illness we call diabetes. They've continually supported me in everything I've done.

I just happened to be a lucky one. I have two great families. And I love them both.


Keith said...

Wonderful story Cara, thanks for sharing.

Bob P said...

Great story, esp. in the context of Elizabeth's event. Thank you for sharing.

Elizabeth said...

Cara, what a beautiful story. I'm SO glad you posted it. I think every adoption story is complex, but in the best cases (including yours and including ours), it results in a child who's deeply loved by two families. And what could be more wonderful than that?

I can only hope our Anna grows up half as wonderful, loving and beautiful as you...

Rachel said...

That is a great story.

My dad only recently discovered a birth sister. Having a family we always had - but never knew.

Kassie said...

lovely post!

k2 said...

The story of how Cara came to be is wonderful!
Thank-you for sharing- and of course, thanks for being you!
Kelly K

Karen said...

That was a beautiful story that had me in tears from the beginning. Thank you for sharing it with us. And for showing us your baby picture- which I honestly think is gorgeous. You were such a little cutie, and still are!

Jacqui McCoy said...

As someone who is about to adopt, this really touched my heart. Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story :) And you were such a cute baby!!

Deachus said...

I am part of Cara's "other" family. We do think of her as a part of this family and the "cousins" talk of her fondly. This side of the family is all actively involved in a Children’s Home in Idaho. We have a saying here that is continually repeated as we have new kids come “home” and others that leave. Family is not the blood running through your veins, but the love that God puts in your heart. We are all pleased that God put Cara in family a family that loves her and supports her. God loves you Cara……”Aunt” Debbie

Cara said...

Thanks for commenting Aunt Debbie. :) I'm so glad you did.

HVS said...

that was a wonderful story-you've been doubly blessed!to have two sets of caring,loving family members.

Layne said...

I didn't know you were a preemie!?! Preemies are my specialty! ;-) How early were you?

What a great story! Thanks for sharing! And it's nice to see that preemies can grow up to be big and strong and healthy!


Cara said...

Layne, I was exactly 1 month early. I was supposed to arrive June 26th and came May 26th. But apparently I was a fighter. :)

Alexis Nicole said...

Oy I'm sobbing! You're were a gorgeous baby! Such a blessing. Thank you for sharing.

Unknown said...

This was beautiful.

After my older brother died (he was 9, I was 5), my parents tried to have another baby, but it wasn't going well.

They planned an adoption. I don't know the specifics, but I know that my brother's adoption was "finalized" (for lack of a better term) before he was born.

My mother found out she was pregnant during the adoption process.

I have 2 younger brothers who are 4 months apart...and I love them each beyond words.

People used to ask me "Which one is adopted?"

I just always answered that I couldn't remember.

God bless :)

Faye Neil said...

I have always thought you were a special girl and now I know just how very special. I love you sweet girl and am so happy that God placed you in Tennessee so that I could get to know you! Thank you for sharing your story.