I am definitely not an expert on domestic adoptions, so I don't really know what the typical one looks like or how or where that first meeting usually takes place. But I know that mine was special.
My parents met me at the hospital, the day after I was born. It was especially memorable for my dad, who hadn't gotten to hold his sons until they were out of the hospital—back in the days when dads were kept at arm's length during the hospital stay. This time, though, not only did he get to hold his newborn baby, but he got to feed her too. In fact, they wouldn't release me until I took a bottle for my parents, so my dad sat down, held me, and said, "I'm your daddy. And you need to drink this bottle." And I did. :-) See, I've always been a Daddy's Girl.
As I mentioned before, my parents had kept this whole adoption a secret, so they had some explaining to do when they got home. My brothers, now 8 and 10, suddenly had a new baby sister to figure out… but even they were easier to convince than our church family. No, they weren't opposed to the idea of my parents adopting a child—they just didn't believe it! About a week after they came home with me, they attended a church picnic. Everyone kept asking, "Whose baby is that?" "She's ours!" my parents would proudly respond. And then they'd hear, "……Nooooo… Whose is she really?" No one could believe that they had kept such a secret or that my parents' hopes of adoption had finally come true. But there I was!
Those of you who are familiar with domestic adoptions know that they aren't finalized overnight. Although my parents had taken me home rather quickly, it was several months before everything was official. In fact, the final adoption hearing wasn't held until February of 1980.
It's important here to remember that we're talking about an adoption that happened over (yikes!) 30 years ago. So before you read this and then e-mail me and say, "That's not right! We did this or know someone who did that or…" whatever, please remember that this was a long time ago. Some things have changed. Are we all on the same page? OK, then keep reading.
On the day of the final hearing, the judge took my parents into his office individually to ask them some questions. Both of them were a little nervous when he started asking about money. "Have you helped the biological mother with her expenses?" he asked. "Medical expenses? Helped her with her rent? Food? Clothing?" They explained that they had wanted to—had offered to—but that she had gotten a job with benefits, so she hadn't needed any help. Apparently a law had been passed during that time that said pregnancy could not be classified as a "pre-existing condition," so she was able to get everything covered. (As an aside, a friend of hers had also basically blackmailed my biological father into helping her financially through her pregnancy, so that helped to cover her non-medical costs.)
The judge continued to press them. "You didn't help the mother of your child at all?" At this point, I think they were more than a little anxious. Was he going to take away their baby because he thought they didn't care enough? Should they have insisted on helping with something—some costs along the way? But then the judge softened. "Good. You see, if you had given her even one cent, this would have been considered a black market adoption, and we would have had to take the baby away." Praise the Lord for working out those details—can you imagine if they had helped her financially, out of the goodness of their hearts, only to have it bite them by having their child taken by the courts?
The rest of the hearing went off without a hitch. And at the end, the judge admonished them that I was now fully theirs. "You are now responsible for her every need," he explained. "If she needs food, you provide it. If she needs clothing, you provide it. If she gets sick as you leave this courthouse, it is your responsibility—she is fully your daughter." They accepted this responsibility and left, now officially a family of five.
And the next week, I came down with pneumonia.