This is the twenty-first post of "30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days," a series designed to give a voice to people with widely varying experiences, including birthparents, adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents, waiting adoptive parents and others touched by adoption.
This Tug of War Was Destroying Him
Written by Danielle for Portrait of an Adoption
My husband, Eric, and I adopted our beautiful daughter Lyla in 2010 via domestic agency infant adoption. Our experience adopting our daughter was idealistic, to say the least. We hardly waited six weeks to be contacted by her birth parents, and an additional six weeks later, we brought our little girl home with the support of her entire birth family. We didn't hit so much as a speed bump. We are beyond blessed.
When our sweet lady was 18 months old, Eric and I started to seriously consider adding another child to our family. A short while later, we were contacted by a friend we had met through an adoptive family support group. When I saw her name pop up on my cell's little screen, I was confused and concerned. She never calls me. Something must have happened. I answered and greeted her, "Is everything alright?"
"I, um, ahhhh, I don't really know why I called you," she stammered. "I just -- I couldn't -- I felt like ... I'm sorry, I just had to tell you about this adoption ... situation. It's not right for us but ... you were the only person I could think to tell. I needed to call you. There is this little boy..."
Before she went any further, I felt a warmth rush through my body. My heart started to race and I choked on tears. She hadn't said a word more but something was telling me, almost like a whisper in my ear, "This is your son. Go get him." (I still get chills when I think about it.)
She proceeded to tell me about a little boy, 5 years old, who is currently being raised by his grandmother and has been since birth. Grandma recently discovered her physical ailments were worsening fast and was told she had maybe six months longer before she would pass away. Knowing that her grandson, Danny, had no biological family who could care for him, she was desperately seeking an adoptive family for him. She went to the bishop of her church, asking him to help her find a good family. The bishop knew my friend was hoping to adopt and connected with her. She, in turn, called me.
The words passed through my mind again, "This is your son. Go get him."
After a whirlwind afternoon of phone calls, Eric and I emailed an introductory letter and pictures to the bishop's wife. Later that night, Grandma called. Thirty minutes later, Grandma gave us her blessing to come meet them in person and how did this Sunday sound? Um, YES! We were over the moon with excitement but decided to hold back until we met in person.
When Sunday finally came, I was beside myself with all the first-meeting nerves, but the minute I laid eyes on Danny, everything disappeared. The entire world went away and there was just him. It was love at first sight, just like with Lyla. After five hours of talking and getting to know each other, Grandma hugged us tightly and said, "You are his family. I know it. Thank you for considering this." We were elated! We made plans to visit again and again over the next few weeks to get to know each other and then create a transition plan for Danny.
We left that day falling 100 percent completely and utterly in love with that little boy. And the more we visited over the next few weeks, the harder we fell. Danny took to us quickly and seemed to be healthily bonding with us. Even sweet Lyla, barely 2 years old, began to worship the ground Danny walked on. We consulted attorneys, caseworkers and pediatric therapists to assure Danny's smooth transition and ability to grieve the loss of his grandmother. We were visiting twice, sometimes thrice, a week -- all the while Grandma supported and encouraged our relationship.
One afternoon, about six weeks in, I decided to make the two-hour drive out to Grandma and Danny by myself -- hoping for some one-on-one bonding time. Upon arrival Grandma asked if we wanted to have Danny come spend the night at our home that night (something we had previously discussed to aid his transition into our home). I was surprised at her seemingly impulsive decision but equally thrilled. We made plans for Grandma and the bishop's wife to meet us at a wedding reception the next evening to pick Danny up. Before leaving, Grandma and I signed a letter stating that I had permission to take him for the evening.
Danny was ecstatic! He was already in love with the idea of having a daddy, mommy and sister. He chattered excitedly at the thought of sleeping in his own room (he and Grandma shared a bed in their small trailer). His excitement bubbled over when we got home. He wanted to explore every inch of our home, then glued himself to our sides all evening. If we moved, he moved. He was on cloud nine and he wasn't the only one! Life felt complete with him home. Eric and I couldn't help but smile all night. We knew it wouldn't last but, for the moment, our son was home.
For time's sake, I'll just tell you the next day was heaven on earth. Then fast forward to that evening. Grandma, who had been calling all day to check in, showed up at the reception site two hours early, without notice. The minute she exited the car, Danny ran up to her and begged her to let him stay another night. She silenced him immediately and radiated anger. I could feel it. I wasn't sure what we had done wrong, but she was seething. She all but grabbed up Danny, threw him in the car as he sobbed, and left without any explanation. She didn't even let him hug us goodbye.
Next: "Our hearts were shattered."
The bishop's wife, who was in the car, called me later that night to tell me that Grandma appeared to have had a complete mental break. Apparently, she had convinced herself that we had kidnapped Danny and were surely abusing him. It took everything the bishop's wife had to keep Grandma from calling the police. Then, during the drive home, Grandma repeatedly yelled at Danny to stop crying out for us, that he was no longer allowed to even think our names. Grandma also called us that night to say we were no longer allowed to visit or call Danny. The idea that Danny preferred living with us to living with her was too much for her to take. She'd rather have him stay with her until she died and allow CPS to take him, than have him ever see us again.
Our hearts were shattered. We sobbed, screamed and cursed. We broke.
A few days later, we received another call from Grandma. She apologized for the way she had acted and begged us to start visiting again. She DID want us to adopt Danny; she just needed more time with him. Cautiously and suspiciously we agreed and resumed visiting. Now, during every visit, Eric and I began to notice the signs of serious mental illnesses in Grandma. Illnesses that initially were not overly obvious, but with time, came screaming out. We realized that, while we believed part of Grandma did want to do the right thing by finding a family for Danny, she was a master manipulator and attention getter. She thrived in drama. She needed it more then she needed oxygen, and our relationship had now become her life blood.
We were terrified of the entire situation but our intense love for Danny and desire to "rescue" him overpowered our fear and we pressed forward. Three spectacular months passed without a major episode. Our bonding with Danny flourished. We courted Grandma. We gained her love. And slowly her trust. We thought we were finally "in." That she could trust us enough now to allow the adoption to happen.
We were wrong.
A few weeks ago, during a moment of clarity, Grandma called crying, begging us to come take Danny. She promised to sign the needed paperwork and finally allow us to be a family. She said she knew it was "time." I asked her to take another day to sleep and think on it to avoid another episode like "last time." She agreed. She called us the next day and confirmed her faith in her decision. "Come and get your son."
I had never heard her sound so genuine. I actually believed her. I believed she was finally ready to take that step. I was a fool. I'll spare you the details of another dramatic episode but suffice it to say, it wasn't pretty. Three hours after we arrived, after packing Danny's things, after going out to a nice lunch, Grandma flipped the switch and pulled the rug out from under all of us, including Danny. Again, I looked into the eyes of my broken little boy as he begged to go home with us. Heartbroken does not even begin to describe what Danny was feeling. We dropped them off at their place then drove away watching Danny sob and Grandma yell (what I'm sure were) more profanities and lies at him.
That day we decided to stop visiting and stop pursuing this adoption. We are grieving the loss of the little boy we have grown to know and love as our son, but we are at peace with our decision. Not only are we torturing ourselves and our family, but Danny was suffering -- I mean really suffering -- from all of this. He saw himself being placed in the middle of this tug of war and it was destroying him. I could not bear to allow him any more of the pain my own hand was causing.
Grandma still tries to call and text us on occasion. She apologizes and begs us to return into her volatile web of lies and drama. Promising us that eventually Danny will be ours. But we know better now. We know she is completely incapable of allowing this adoption to happen while she is alive. To protect Danny and ourselves, we will not relent. We will not visit. All we can do, as morbid as it sounds, is wait for the day she passes and pray that the call will come telling us Danny can finally come home. Until that day comes, we are determined to continue our lives with as much normalcy as our doubting, broken hearts can muster.
I share my story with you today to show you that adoption isn't always pretty. Many times it feels like the proverbial David and Goliath. And there will be times that we will not slay the giant. But we can heal from this. We can press forward. For all the heartbreak, there is still a lot of joy in this journey. Even if he never does come home to us, I can honestly say I will never regret our time with Danny. And no matter how tough it gets, I will never regret that I am blessed to build my family through adoption.
Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear. If you have a story you would like to submit as a candidate for next year's series, please email it to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.