Meeting Daniel

The late summer sun was disappearing in front of us, behind cornfields and silos, as we drove along a highway in Indiana. The horizon dissolved to black and flashes of heat lightning started to pop in the distance, a white-hot burst that for an instant would silhouette the landscape: barns, cornstalks, clouds. Then black.

It was silent in the rental car. No radio. Snatches of conversation. Mostly, my husband and I stared straight ahead.

"We need a middle name," I'd say, and we'd talk for 10 minutes. And then, again, silence.

Out there, somewhere past the horizon, we had a son, five days old and waiting for us in a hospital in Evansville, Indiana.

A day earlier, we had been going about our daily routine as a childless married couple in Connecticut. I had worked a fairly nondescript Wednesday at The Day, and at the end of it my husband, Mike, had asked if I wanted to grab a bite to eat and a glass of wine.

As I pulled away from the office, my cell phone rang. I glanced down, didn't recognize the number and kept driving. Isn't that the way the biggest events of our lives often begin? An innocuous moment, a missed phone call, an offhand remark or a chance meeting.

I had missed The Call. Ask anyone who has ever adopted and they distinctly remember receiving The Call (even if they don't remember the details of the conversation). Ask me, and I'll tell you I missed it.

Instead, I went to the restaurant, became slightly peeved when I didn't see Mike, then went back to the car and checked my voice mail from the parking lot. It was Mary, a social worker from our adoption agency, asking me to call her at my earliest convenience.

I knew immediately. "Holy (expletive)," I thought, "there's only one reason Mary's calling after hours."

So that's how the biggest phone call of my life took place: in a car in the parking lot of Flanders Fish Market. I sat in the driver's seat and took notes in my reporter's notebook, flipping over the page filled with police logs and scribbling furiously about my potential son.

I asked a question to which I already knew the answer: "When would we need to go?"

"Tomorrow."

"Every adoption involves a strange providence, in which events and choices are random yet decisive," reads a Washington Post story about NPR correspondent Scott Simon, who adopted two girls from China and wrote a book about adoption.

And then it quoted from Simon's book: "Those of us who have been adopted, or have adopted or want to adopt children, must believe in a world in which the tumblers of the universe can click in unfathomable ways that deliver strangers into our lives."

The tumblers had just clicked.

Our son Daniel, now nearly five months old, is a perfect match for us. I love him like I've never loved anyone, so deeply that sometimes I look at him and I ache. I waited for this boy for a long time.

Our match went about as smoothly as it ever could and ultimately took less than a year, but I won't begin to tell you that this process is storybook. The journey to adoption can be grueling, can scar you in unimaginable ways - in ways that only grief can scar.

But grief can also open doors you never knew existed, doors that materialize and become, somehow, the opening through which you were meant to travel.

Grief? Isn't this a story about adoption, about babies and newly built families and all of the joys of parenthood?

Yes. But for many, the journey starts with loss. Loss is a thread that joins everyone in the "adoption triad": adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptee.

For me and for many adoptive parents, the loss came from a diagnosis of infertility and the loss of biological children. I learned you need to grieve that loss - the loss of children never born yet imagined - before moving forward. I didn't want to grieve; I only wanted children, in whatever way they came into my life. I didn't even pursue treatments because I felt, immediately, that adoption was our best route. There were children who needed homes and we needed children.

And yet.

Yet grief has a way of forcing itself upon you, doesn't it? You try to ignore it and it surfaces in any myriad of ways. After five years, I finally spoke to a therapist. Until now, no one but my husband knew that. I wish I had talked to her sooner.

Someday, my son might experience grief and loss when he realizes exactly what adoption is and understands that he lost one family before he joined ours. I hope I can help him through that.

I hope I adequately convey to him that his birth mother loved him and wanted him to have a life she felt she couldn't provide. I hope he understands the thought she put into her decision, that she didn't just "give him up" and that she, too, experienced a loss. If he chooses to look for her when he is older, we will support and help him.

And I hope, when someone tells us or tells Daniel that he is lucky to have us for parents, that I can find a way to let those people know it is Mike and I who are the lucky ones.

After traveling all day, we finally arrived at the hospital around 9:30 p.m. Daniel was in the NICU because he was born a little early and, being alone, so that he could get more attention.

The desk nurse asked us to scrub with soap and water up to our elbows for one minute - a perfect example of how excruciatingly long one minute can take. Then a nurse came over, introduced herself and asked a question we'll hear in our memories forever.

"Are you ready to meet your son?"

She walked us through the door and into the NICU. We walked past bassinets to our right and to our left. I swept the room with my eyes.

The nurse walked to a bassinet on the left and motioned us over. Mike quietly gasped and I felt tears well up as all I could muster was a soft, "Oh my God, he's beautiful."

We stared in silence at this tiny, perfect baby as the nurse picked him up and asked if we wanted to hold him. She handed him to me and then offered to take our picture. He didn't have a name yet, so they filled in "Daniel" on his bassinet ("We wondered what your name was," said the nurses who had cared for him the past five days).

A little later, we finally settled on a middle name: Joseph, for a beloved uncle of Mike's.

"It is an unexpected form of human affection - meeting an unrelated stranger and, within moments, being willing to care for her, even to die for her," Simon, the NPR correspondent, wrote. "The relationship results from a broken bond but creates ties as strong as genetics, stronger than race or tribe."

I couldn't end this story any better than that.

k.crompton@theday.com

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