Before Signing the Paperwork, the Birth Mother Disappeared

This post was written for Gays With Kids by guest blogger Matthew Jones*.

August 2013, my husband Harry* and I stood in the maternity ward at Ingalls Memorial Hospital near Chicago, overcome with emotion. Harry was cutting the cord of our newborn daughter, Nina* – a beautiful 5-pound, 5-ounce little girl.

Originally we had hoped to utilize my employer’s adoption services program, which encourages employees to adopt by reimbursing them up to $3,000 of the adoption fees. We also considered finding a surrogate. Eventually, neither of these options proved successful.

Then, out of the blue on a Friday in May 2013, a friend of a friend knew a pregnant woman who was suffering from cervical cancer as well as gastroparesis, a serious condition of the stomach. That woman was looking for a family to adopt her unborn child due in three months.

After we consulted with an attorney who specializes in adoptions by gays and lesbians, we agreed to meet Karen (not her real name) and her boyfriend on the following Wednesday. The attorney drew up important documents for us to discuss with the birth mother.

We decided to take Karen and her boyfriend Steve (not his real name either) to dinner. Karen was obviously pregnant, but also thin and sickly looking. While the relationship between the four of us was stressful at times, it pretty much remained healthy and happy. We even talked about having an open-adoption relationship with the birth parents for the sake of Karen and Steve’s three other children. Things were looking good. Within two days of meeting the biological parents, we had a preliminary adoption agreement in hand.

Three months later, our daughter was born. One hour after the delivery, everything changed.

Within minutes of being alone in her hospital room, Karen left without completing the birth certificate or signing the adoption agreement. She had simply signed out against medical advice and was gone.

I was frantic and phoned our attorney, who told us that if we didn’t get consent paperwork signed within 24 hours, Nina would become a ward of the state and could be placed in a foster home. Obviously concerned about our situation, the attorney told us to not let her out of our sight. She even recommended we take her into our care if she wasn’t safe at home, and to make sure she met with the hospital social worker the next day to make some crucial decisions about visitation and adoption intent.

After repeated calls to her cell phone, Harry and I found the birth mother at a McDonald’s. She was upset and agitated. She kept saying she “kept doing things for others” and “wanted time for herself.” Knowing that we had to get consent of care forms signed within 24 hours and get them to the hospital to make medical decisions for the baby, we persuaded her to come stay in our hotel room for the night. But first, we took her back to her apartment where she and the baby’s father signed the consent forms.

After the paperwork was taken care of, we took Karen out to dinner. She ate an absolutely enormous amount of food. We then sat down, had some wine and had a rather pleasant conversation.

The next morning, as we approached the hospital to meet with the social worker, Karen suddenly got highly agitated. She kept saying we were early, and that there was no reason to meet at this time. After the night my husband and I had had, we were tired of her attitude. At the hospital, we had to wait to meet with the social worker. (Another baby had gone into cardiac arrest and had to be airlifted to the nearest children’s hospital in downtown Chicago.) Karen was not happy about the delay and started to go off on us. That is when I told her to “sit down and shut up.” Taken aback, she quieted down. But we all knew that she was holding the cards, and we had to tread very carefully.

Once in the room with the social worker, we found out why she was so nervous. As we were all sitting in a circle, the social worker looked Karen sternly in the face and said, “When was the last time you took your methadone?” Our mouths dropped to the floor. Harry and I knew exactly what methadone was for. I immediately stood up and left the room in tears, with Harry chasing after me. We found out that Nina had tested positive for “tremendous amounts” of opiates, as well as cocaine, crack and cannabis.

We were beside ourselves. During the ride back to her apartment we didn’t speak a word to Kareen; she kept saying that their test results were wrong, that the hospital was stupid and that they didn’t know what they were doing.

The first thing we did was call our attorney who filed an emergency injunction and miraculously got the matter before a judge just three days after Nina was born.

It was an emotional hearing. Harry and I were in tears as the judge read off the baby’s diagnosis. Standing there we knew that the judge might not award guardianship. Karen hadn’t been cleared by a social worker. The judge didn’t HAVE to terminate her rights at that point. Yet, after he met with Karen, and then with Harry and me, the judge terminated Karen’s rights and awarded us immediate guardianship of the baby. We could finally breathe a bit easier. We would never have to see Karen again at this point.

In the hospital, Nina was basically treated as a heroin addict. Three times a day nurses administered methadone with a bit of formula in a nipple. For two weeks Harry drove to and from the hospital 100 miles each day to spend the entire day with Nina. Two months prior, Harry had lost his job of 16 years. Fortunately, this was a blessing in disguise as it allowed Harry to be with Nina everyday, to hold, feed and bathe her.

The doctor treated this situation as a very grim one at first, even suggesting we reconsider our adoption: There could be longterm health effects. We had to be prepared for anything. But giving up on Nina never crossed our minds. Nina was ours, no matter the challenges we faced. We were not going to second-guess ourselves. We wanted her. She was ours. We were hers.

After two weeks and much pleading on our part, the hospital released Nina into our care, with her methadone doses. Her neonatal doctor personally vouched for Harry and me; a local pediatrician guaranteed weekly checkups. And so, every Tuesday for eight weeks we would take Nina to that pediatrician to adjust her methadone doses. Finally, we were able to wean her off methadone completely.

Today, Nina is a healthy, rambunctious 2-year-old who loves wrestling with the boys in her daycare class. She’s speaking at the level of a 4-year-old; she loves her daddies, toys, dogs, and candy. She’s perfectly healthy and active. She has her whole life ahead of her.

*All names has been changed for privacy reasons.

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