On Tuesday, March 22, our travels take us from Austin to Fresno, California via Los Angeles. From Fresno, we rent a car and drive 30 minutes to a small town north of Fresno called Madera. No trip I’ve ever taken, regardless of distance, has felt longer than this one. When we arrive, there remains only a hint of the setting sun on the horizon and the weather is cold and wet. It matched some of what we’ve been feeling. California’s Central Valley is like a scene straight out of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. It’s all farms and pastures…and it feels very, very far from home.
After traveling all day, we finally arrive at Madera Community Hospital. It’s almost 9:30 pm and it’s after hours, so we have to enter the hospital through the Emergency Room. Surprisingly, every hospital worker we meet seems to be expecting us and we are quickly ushered to the Maternity Ward. One nurse smilingly asks if we’re excited to meet our son. Our son? Wow. Yes, our son! We are excited beyond words. There is a child – a boy – somewhere in this hospital who needs a family and parents to love and protect him. We are determined to be his parents. But, in the back of our minds, there remains the sobering possibility that it could all change when the sun comes up in the morning.
We arrive at the door to the Nursery. I am not kidding, I felt the passing of time slow and everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. We’re led inside and we notice, in the nursery, one solitary infant in an otherwise empty room. Is that him? We strain to look past the nurse’s shoulder hoping for a better glimpse. Surely, that’s our boy! As the nurse begins to wheel his little plastic bassinet towards us, I am overwhelmed by a flood of emotions. I find myself weeping uncontrollably at the intensity of seeing my son for the first time. At some point in those tears, I notice Carita clinging to my arm, hand over her mouth, crying along with me. I’ve often felt, in the 9 years of infertility, that my life was stuck. Sometimes, I felt as if a new day was just my pseudo-future, a pale imitation of what life should have been like. But when I gazed upon the sleeping, peaceful face of our baby boy, it was as if life suddenly became very unstuck.
At that moment, one thing was very clear to us. No, the answers to the mysteries of the Universe did not unfold before us, but it did feel like a long journey was drawing to a close. We knew with every fiber of our being that, had our path deviated at any point in the last 9 years, we wouldn’t be holding this boy – our son – this day. Had we gotten pregnant 9 years ago, or 8, or 7. Had the China adoption proceeded in the expected pace. Any of those happen and we aren’t there in Madera, California that night. At that moment, everything that we’d endured seemed worth it.
With shaky hands, I reached for him. Holding a newborn and knowing that there isn’t another person on earth more responsible for his well-being than you is a powerful moment. Looking down on him, I choke out the words, “Hello, son. I’m your dad and this is your mom. We’ve waited so long to finally meet you.” That’s all I can manage through the tears.
We named our son Jacob Dylan. Jacob, after Jacob of the Old Testament. The specific reasons for this choice we’ll share in a different blog post. Dylan, simply because we liked it. I did joke with the nurse that we were inspired in equal parts by Bob Dylan – the legendary rocker, Dylan Thomas – the Welsh poet, and Dylan McKay – the side burned anti-hero in the ubiquitous show Beverly Hills 90210. I think the nurse believed me.
The nurse showed remarkable sensitivity to our situation. We were provided two rocking chairs, a private room, and all of the time we wanted to soak up the moment. We’re so grateful to the medical professionals at Madera Community Hospital. I do remember holding Carita’s hand, as she took her turn holding our son. We tried to pray a prayer of thanksgiving, but the words kept escaping us. It’s still comforting to know, that even as our words failed us, God could listen to our hearts. Our hearts were indeed praising Him.
The rest of the time at the hospital was a blur of filling out forms, receiving baby care instructions from the nurses, and basking in the joy of the night. Finally, we wrapped baby Jacob in some swaddling cloths and left the hospital at 11:30 pm. Our first night as a new family was spent in the Springhill Suites off of Highway 99 in Madera, California. There has never been a more joyous night of sleepless child care than ours on March 22. We got a couple of hours of sleep that night.
As the sun rose on March 23, we both knew it would be a momentous day. The birth mother was supposed to sign her Parental Rights Termination papers today. Once she did that, we would sign our own documents, assuming full legal responsibility over the Jacob. Once signed, these papers would be binding and irrevocable. She could also, for whatever reason, refuse to sign it. That morning should have been full of tension due to the uncertainty. Instead, we felt an indescribable peace from the Lord. The old hymn, “All the Way My Savior Leads Me” was on my mind that morning:
All the way my Savior leads me, what have I to ask beside
Can I doubt His tender mercy, who through life has been my guide…
…For I know whatever befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.
While we wait at the hotel for the lawyers to arrive, we have lunch at the restaurant across the street. Our first family meal. It’s a greasy diner off the highway in the middle-of-nowhere-California-town called Madera. That meal wouldn’t have been more special had it been in the fanciest restaurant, in the most beautiful setting on earth. Of course, Baby Jacob slept through the whole meal.
At 4:45 pm, our lawyer, Ted, and his wife, Sheryl, finally walk into the hotel lobby. There are big smiles on all of our faces and hugs all around. The birth mother signed the papers, without hesitation! As they tell us more about their interaction with her, we get the sense that God is writing a much bigger story here than just our adoption story. Ted and Sheryl tell us about the small ways that redemption is entering into the birth mother’s life and how, through all of this, there are glimmers of hope that she can turn her life around…that she might one day experience her own redemption through the Cross. We are elated, inspired, and humbled that God assigned us roles in this narrative that is still unfolding.
On March 23, 2011 at 5:12 pm, Carita and I sign the four pages of documents that now give us the legal rights as Jacob’s parents. More importantly, we receive the spiritual stewardship of raising Jacob as our son. We have never felt more dependent on the grace of God, nor more confident in the sufficiency of that grace.
There’s so much more I could write, but those will wait for future posts. For now, we are content to let this story come to an end, as we look forward to a new beginning as a family.
In closing, here is a picture of our son, Jacob Dylan Chen. I hope you enjoyed this ride with us. For those who, in tears and in hope over these many years, beseeched the Lord on behalf of our family, reflect on His answered prayer and the knowledge that Jesus doeth all things well.