PAGE # 53
Approximately 1:35 pm

Kendra had definitely been crying:  Her eyes were red and puffy, and a bunch of crumpled tissues were piled beside an uneaten meal.  She held the baby in her arms.
"How many days does Bobby have to contest the adoption?" 
This was a question for the attorney and it came from Mike, Kendra's father.
"Thirty days from notice of the adoption plan.  We served those papers before the birth, so it's less than that now."
I was trying to calculate the exact date in my head.  The date when we would know for certain whether the baby would stay with us or not.
"Does that mean 30 business days or do weekends and holidays count too?" I asked.  
I couldn't hear the attorney's response because Mike said something to me at the same moment.
"We'll all have to go out and celebrate together when the thirty days are up," he suggested.  "I'm praying that Bobby doesn't mess up this adoption--I can't stand him!"
It occurred to me that I knew nothing positive about the baby's father.  What was I supposed to tell this little girl as she grew up--that her dad was a terrible man?  There had to be something nice to say about him. 
"Kendra," I started, "What should I tell the baby about her father?"
"Just tell her that Johnny [Kendra's husband] is the father," Mike interrupted.  "His name is on the birth certificate and he signed off on the adoption paperwork anyhow."
Kendra sighed and shook her head.  "No, Dad," she said firmly if softly.  

Shelley, the attorney, started in with some other matter of legal business, and it was then that I realized I never heard her answer to my last question.
"What did you say about the thirty days?  Is it just business days or do weekends and holidays count too?"
"Jennifer!" the attorney scolded me yet again.  "Pay attention!  I've already answered that.  You're always doing that--making me repeat what we've already gone over."  She folded her arms.  "Yes, every day counts.  Even Christmas."
Unfortunately, all of my aforementioned superpowers were inaccessible at that moment.  I was emotionally drained.  If only I could order the universe to grant me a corrective experience, I would arrive at the hospital that morning in full combat gear.  And I would aim my super punch right for Shelley's jaw.  And again.  Maybe give her black eyes too.

But that's not what happened.

Instead, my cheeks burned with humiliation.  Shelley's latest assault left me feeling like a small, powerless child.  

To be continued...



PAGE # 52
Approximately 1:30 pm

We were in the hospital, following the attorney down the corridor, only moments from reaching the room where Kendra and her baby waited.  The attorney moved quickly.  I hurried past her, then did an abrupt turn directly in her path, forcing her to stop.
"I don't understand.  It's been hours.  What happened in there?"
 Shelley spoke softly.  "Oh, there was quite a bit of fighting between Kendra and her mother.  Her mother was terribly condescending toward her.  I felt so bad for Kendra."

Tom hadn't sprinted forward alongside me, and was only now joining the conversation.  "Go on," he instructed Shelley.

Shelley continued.  "And her husband just wanted to get out of there so he could go fishing.  I mean, poor Kendra!"  Shelley cupped a hand over the side of her mouth and lowered her voice even more.  "I really think she was hoping that someone, anyone, would show more concern for her.  I imagine she was even hoping that interloper would show his face here," Shelley remarked, referring to Bobby, the biological father.
"I thought she was afraid of him," I said.
"Well, yes, of course," Shelley said, rolling her eyes.  "But you know how the fantasy goes.  She probably just wants someone to care about her.  Her husband signed off as the legal father on the paperwork, thank God!  But he just wanted to get done so he could run off with his fishing buddies.  Oh, I already told you that."
"I don't understand," I said.  "I thought Johnny didn't want to sign off on the adoption paperwork.  It's not his baby."
Up until this point, neither Bobby (the biological father) nor Johnny (Kendra's legal husband) had been willing to sign off on the adoption paperwork.  

Bobby had refused to sign off on the adoption, but he also hadn't demonstrated any interest in parenting the child--he had taken no action to assert any paternal rights.

Moreover, Johnny had also refused to sign off on the adoption paperwork--he was not the baby's true father and he didn't want to sign any kind of legal document that stated otherwise.  Aside from the moral issue at stake, there was the volatile history of his marriage to Kendra, and Johnny's own attorney had advised him against signing the adoption forms.  If the adoption, for whatever reason, did not work out, Johnny didn't want legal responsibility of the child.  Whether his marriage to Kendra would continue was questionable.  They were trying, sure, but Johnny could potentially be risking financial responsibility for the child, if the adoption plan failed, and if he had signed a document that asserted paternity for the child.
"I thought only Kendra would be signing off on the paperwork?" Tom begged for more clarification.
Shelley walked forward a bit, then turned to face us again.  
"Be happy he signed it!" she instructed us.  "Otherwise, we'd have no leg to stand on in court!"
"Court?" I asked.
"Well, it's not going to come to that.  It's just a legal thing.  Don't worry about it."
But I was beyond worried.  Those early feelings I'd had about the attorney were back, only tenfold.

Shelley must have noticed my panic, because she changed the topic.  Of course, at the time, so much information was getting thrown at Tom and I, neither of us could process it quickly enough.  What Shelley said next diverted my attention to a new matter, but I would fail to cognitively grasp the sheer manipulative strategy Shelley employed:  She had clearly noticed my empathy for Kendra, and exploited it by shifting my focus off of the legal concerns and back onto Kendra.
"Before we go in there," Shelley continued.  "I just want you to know why else it all took so long."
Shelley looked straight into my eyes.
"Apparently, Kendra did some online research last night, and she read that some adoptive parents promise to keep contact with the birth mother, but then after they get the baby home, they completely disappear and the birth mother never hears from them again."
"Oh my God," I said.  "How can people do that?"
"There's no legal way to enforce an open adoption," Shelley explained.
"But I thought people did open adoption all the time nowadays?" I countered.
"Well, that's what people say they're going to do, but when the adoptive parents cut off contact, there is no legal recourse for the birth family.  There's no such thing as a legally enforceable open adoption."
"Oh my God, that's utterly evil," I said, in true horror.  "What kind of people would do such a thing?"
"People who want a baby and will say anything to a pregnant woman to get one."
"Oh my God," I repeated, starting to appreciate the terror Kendra must be feeling.  "We would never do something like that.  Kendra must know we would never do that."
"Well, she doesn't know that for sure.  And that's why she was having a full blown panic attack.  That's why it took so long.  Kendra's worried you might not follow through on your stated interest in maintaining a connection with her."
I realize there is no way I could feel exactly what Kendra was going through, but my heart filled with terror.  I felt as if I my body had been injected with Kendra's fear and panic.  It was terrible.

Tom expressed disgust upon hearing this news--that other adoptive couples manipulate birth mothers with the false promise of an open adoption--but it did not impact him with the emotional force I was experiencing.  He knew he would never do such a thing to Kendra and that was comfort enough for him; on the other hand, I had a more visceral reaction to the whole conversation:  It was not enough that we knew we would never close the door on the baby's birth family.  I felt actual terror thinking that Kendra felt terror over this, and that she was saying goodbye to her little girl with no real knowledge that she would ever see her again.  

The whole imagined scenario was just too devastating.  I thought of what Kendra must be feeling inside, and I felt terror.

Then, we rounded the corner and were just a few feet from Kendra's hospital room.  That's when the attorney said:
"Oh and I opted not to use a court reporter earlier.  It was a strategic move on my part."
"I thought there had to be a court reporter present," I said.
"Oh no," Shelley replied.  "A court reporter is for Kendra's benefit, but in this case, I made the strategic decision to help Kendra by opting out of the recording.  Kendra would only hurt herself in the long run in a court report."
Shelley was now just outside of Kendra's room.
"Wait!" I exclaimed.  "Isn't it the law to have a court reporter present during the adoption paperwork?" 
Shelley's eyes narrowed as she reprimanded me.  "Jennifer!  You are not the lawyer here!  That's my job.  I'm the legal expert.  I've done this over 2,000 times.  Please!  Kendra is waiting for you to take her baby.  Leave the legal matters to me--you are not an attorney and you don't understand the law."

And with that, Shelley knocked on Kendra's door, and before I could grasp even a percent of all the conversation that transpired along the walk from the elevator to the doorway, I was face to face with Kendra, her baby, and Kendra's parents.

Johnny, Kendra's husband, was already gone.  
"Fishing," Kendra told us, although we already knew this from Shelley.  "He said to tell you guys good-bye and thanks for everything."
To Be Continued...



PAGE # 51
1:11 pm

I wasn't hungry but figured I should force myself to eat something.  There was a kiosk in the hospital lobby where I purchased coffee and a bagel.  
"You want anything?" I asked Tom.
He shook his head.  He had already eaten two muffins.

I plopped down next to my husband, kicked my shoes off, and sat with my knees crossed.
"Might as well be comfortable," I said.
"This will be a weird story someday," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean the story of how we almost adopted a baby girl."
"Yeah," I agreed.  
I checked the time on my cell phone and noticed that our friend Jim had sent a text message. 

I had texted the following update to both Jim, and his wife, Tracey, a few minutes earlier:  
Tom and I are waiting in the hospital lobby now.  Shelley [the adoption attorney] and Margo [Shelley's partner] are upstairs with Kendra.  It has been a very long time.  Long long time.  We saw Kendra's dad going up a little while ago.  Whatever will be, will be.
And at exactly 1:08 pm, Jim had written back:
It took about an hour with the attorney and birthmom for us.  They have to go over a ton of stuff and it needs to be recorded.  
I showed the text to Tom who shook his head in response.
"About an hour!" he exclaimed.  "We've already been here for at least two, plus it took us nearly a whole hour to get here as well."
"Well, this is what we hoped for," I said.
"Yep," Tom nodded.  "I'm happy for them.  The baby gets to stay with her family and they're a great family.  We'll get to be like an aunt and uncle to the baby.  I'm sure Kendra will want that."
"Oh, honey, I just don't think so," I held Tom's hand.  "I mean, I'm sure Kendra likes us and all, but how would she explain our presence to the baby when she gets older?  I don't exactly think she's going to ever tell her that she almost placed her for adoption."
"Maybe she'll just tell her we're good friends," Tom said.  "I think that's why this all happened in the first place--so we could be like mentors for them.  We're older and went through early marriage and parenthood too."
"Maybe," I said, but I thought Tom was overestimating our importance in the whole scheme of things.
"Well, maybe they'll send us monthly pictures or something," Tom suggested.
I laughed at this.  I couldn't help myself.
"I'll miss them too," I said.
We each sighed, and without another word, we retreated into our own thoughts.

I wondered if everything was taking so long because Kendra was afraid to tell us she'd changed her mind.  We'd seen Kendra's dad in the lobby a little earlier--either he hadn't noticed us or hadn't recognized us or didn't want to be the one to tell us the news.  Or maybe he was there to help Kendra explain her change of heart?

Then I got to thinking about our friends, Jim and Tracey.  They were surely going to be acting sympathetic when we returned home with an empty car seat.  How would we explain that we felt happiness for the baby, as opposed to sadness?  As adoptive parents themselves, would they be offended that we thought it a better outcome that a child remain with her natural family?  

I finished my bagel and walked toward a garbage can to throw away my empty coffee cup.  And that's when I saw her.  She had a huge smile on her face, as if she'd just won the lottery.  I blinked, confused for a moment.  When she reached me, she threw her arms around me in an enormous embrace and said, "Congratulations!  Follow me!"

And so Tom and I followed the attorney toward the elevator.  I was sure I had misunderstood.

Shelley pressed the button for the third floor.  
"I don't understand," I explained.  "She's not keeping her?"
Tom looked just as bewildered as I felt.

In fact, I felt like I had stumbled into someone else's party, where all the guests jump out yelling "SURPRISE!" and then realize they've got the wrong woman.

Surely the adoption attorney was making some kind of mistake.  
"I don't understand," I repeated.  "It's been hours."
But the attorney was already out the elevator, plowing down the corridor.

To be continued...