‘We Finally Figured Out Where Babies Come From’

Sixteen years ago this month, my wife and I entered that new phase of life called parenthood. Some young adults dread the responsibility — the sleepless nights of infancy, the terribleness of toddlers, the drama of middle childhood, the rebellion of teenagers and the costs of college. But with our glass half full back then, we dreamed instead of the rewards of nurturing children.

For five long years we dreamed. Then one evening, in the back of a car in Guatemala City, our dream came true. That’s where Kimberly and I met our son, Anthony. Two years later we went back to “The Land of the Eternal Spring” to add our first daughter, Elli, to the family mix. And in 2005 we made one more trip to bring home the baby of the family, Catie.

Father, daughters and son

Our lives have been a blur of (mostly) precious memories ever since, and along the way, we embraced another culture as part of our heritage and developed a passion for adoption.

Adoption has been part of my life since childhood. One of my aunts took several foster children into her home and eventually adopted two of my cousins that way. So when infertility temporarily dashed the parenting hopes Kimberly and I shared, we decided to adopt.

We quickly learned that adoption is more than one simple decision. Foster-to-adopt or outright adoption? Agency or private lawyer? Open or closed adoption? Domestic or international? Infant, toddler or older child? Special needs? Sibling group? Transracial adoption? We knew we wanted a baby, but the options seemed overwhelming as we reeled from reproductive loss. Even after we settled on international adoption, we had to pick a country.

A providential trip to the airport made that choice an easy one. We met a couple with a young girl from Guatemala. Her Hebrew name was Eliana, which means “God answered me.” We knew right then that not only would we adopt from Guatemala but that one day we would have a daughter named Eliana.

Big brother came first, though. Anthony’s foster mother placed him in Kimberly’s arms almost nine months to the day after we turned our adoption focus toward Guatemala. He was eight weeks old when we brought him home hours before Thanksgiving, the perfect holiday gift. We had some fun with our adoption announcement, which proclaimed, “We finally figured out where babies come from … Guatemala.”

The moment we met our son and his foster mother

Anthony had our full attention for the next year — but that wasn’t always to his benefit. To this day, Kimberly calls him our “practice child,” the one subjected to the idiocy of bumbling, first-time parents. Here are just two of the embarrassing lessons we learned: 1) Don’t hold a baby in your lap while shaking Tabasco sauce onto your gumbo or you may blind him; and 2) when your son cries the first time you feed him refried beans at Taco Bell, it’s because they’re stuck to the roof of his mouth and burning his palate.

Despite such mishaps, we felt confident enough as parents by Anthony’s first birthday to try again. Guatemala had changed its rules, so Elli’s adoption took longer. We didn’t get to bring her home until she was 3 1/2 months old.

The upside is that we had changed, too. Two years earlier, we rarely left our hotel with Anthony for fear of how Guatemalans might react to our mixed family. By the time we adopted Elli, we invited a globe-trotting friend to Guatemala with us, stayed there longer, and spent as much time as possible shopping, sightseeing and talking to Guatemalans. We spent several days in Antigua and toured both a coffee finca and a macadamia plantation.

Our two years with Anthony made all the difference in our attitude. We didn’t just fall in love with him; we fell in love with his heritage. Latinos in our community also loved meeting Anthony. We once passed him through the window of a Checker’s when he was a baby so all the ladies inside could cuddle him and get a closer look.

Kimberly and I were so enamored with all things Guatemala that we periodically trekked to La Bamba in Silver Spring, Md., for authentic cuisine. I started collecting Guatemalan coins. We encouraged other couples who were considering adoption to look at Guatemala.

We also kept looking there ourselves after we brought Elli home. On paper we couldn’t afford a third adoption, but that hadn’t stopped us before. We made plans for a literally full house — so full that during the home study, we decided to get a bigger one. That’s when we realized we actually could afford another adoption. The housing bubble became our personal baby boom.

Mommy and her three “babies”

The trip to get Catie was the best of times and the worst of times — the best because my parents went with us to meet their last grandchild in her birth country and the worst because both my Dad and I endured terrible bouts of stomach sickness. Mine hit the morning of our flight home, and first we had to travel the country roads from Antigua back to Guatemala City. I was quite the fright in the airport and on the plane.

The trip was equally trying because at five months, Catie was the oldest of our children when we met her. She was rather attached to her foster mother and didn’t particularly like any of us. The hours I spent in Internet cafes blogging our last adoption in real time may have been the only time I didn’t hear crying during those 10 days.

But we knew right away that Catie was a perfect fit for our family. When we met our intermediary at the U.S. embassy to finalize the paperwork, she looked at fair-skinned Catie and then at Kimberly and said, “She looks like you.” A couple of years later, my Mom noticed another family resemblance in old photos: As a toddler, Catie looked almost exactly like my half-Mexican biological niece at the same age.

The frustrating delays during Catie’s adoption made sense in hindsight. She was meant to be our daughter, and we had to not-so-patiently wait for her entrance into the world.

Catie celebrated her 11th birthday this month; Anthony now has his learner’s permit; and Elli is old enough to be addicted to texting. We’re so far removed from the process of adoption that Kimberly and I don’t even see ourselves as adoptive parents anymore. We’re just parents who revel in the highs and endure the lows of raising children.

A recent family photo during a vacation to Louisiana

But adoption will forever be a part of us. Now that we’re too old (and tired) to adopt again, we just have to live vicariously through others — and we do.

Kimberly took a three-week adoption trip this time last year. Our friends, Kent and Tina, adopted 8- and 13-year-old girls from China, and Kimberly tagged along with Tina to provide much-needed support. Thanks to the generosity of my employers, I worked remotely and on a flexible schedule to play homeschooling dad to Anthony and Elli. Catie spent most of the time with my parents in West Virginia.

Kent and Tina thought we were saints for making that “sacrifice,” but we counted it a blessing. We thought they were the saints for letting us be part of their journey. It may well be our last big adoption adventure.

Our lives are fuller because of every one of them.

A version of this story originally appeared on the FAA’s internal website.

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