Part 6: Waiting for the Shoe to Drop

Lastly, but definitely the most emotionally impactful, there was the looming threat that Dad would come forward, or Mom would take Baby back. After all our hard work. After all our love we poured into her. In the court’s eyes, reunification with the parents is always the preferred outcome, seemingly despite whatever track the parent may be on. We had to mature quickly and accept this possibility—devastating as it was—because Baby needed us; she deserved us; we loved her, we needed her, and that was that. She deserved the same amount of undivided love we gave our firstborn, even if the rug would one day be ripped out from underneath us.

I’ll never forget the first meeting at Union Station with Mom, where instead of hugging her first, I held out sanitizer as my greeting, and that was before sanitizer was cool. I was terrified about what she would say. I could read trepidation on her face, as well, as she searched the busy train station for us, and when she didn’t know I was watching. She was there to fulfill her court-ordered duty, but in all fairness, she seemed very interested in the baby at the time. I’ll always recall when, in the midst of me taking the babe back into my arms, she said, “Look at how she looks at you! Man, I’m really going to feel bad when I take her from you guys in June.” I don’t even remember the rest of the conversation other than a deafening heart palpitation that took over the remainder of our time with her. We toughed it out for the rest of the visit, but we didn’t even try to hold back our tears once the harrowing doors closed behind us on that frigid February night.

There were many ups and downs such as this, until the second and only other visit with Mom, thus far. We finally got the gall to ask her point blank to consider letting us take the baby. “Let us do this for you. Let us help you the only way we know how, so you can focus on healing your own life. We love her. We see there is no bond with you—by no fault of your own. You were separated at birth. She’s already part of our family. Let us do this one thing for you.” We encouraged her to think long and hard about it, because it would lighten her load and let her heal, and we loved her and Baby. Baby was part of our family. By that point, we couldn’t imagine our family with a Baby-shaped void. Big Sister finally had the little sister she always wanted, and we had the second child we had sought for years. She turned her eyes downward and said, noncommittally, “I have been thinking about that.”

Then, there was the extensive search for Dad, or any other family member who wanted to come forward. One day, the caseworker came for her monthly visit, and waited until the last thirty seconds to drop the bomb that there was a woman who reached out to Mom, who claimed to be grandma. She could have given us a run for our money, but she never reached out to the caseworker, so after two weeks of agony, it became apparent that it was a false alarm. 

There was also an attempt to screen her for Native American relations, which would have put her in the hands of her tribe had it come back positive. There was one man in the picture who swore he was Dad from the beginning. He visited her regularly in the hospital, changed her diaper, drew her impressive pencil drawings of elephants submerged in bubbles, and even gave her a teddy bear song recording with a personal song message. He was eventually given a paternity test, which returned negative results, and a positive sex offender registration, and a police escort out of the NICU. Thank you, Jesus, for your protection, that day.

One other gentleman came forward, who happened to be wearing bright orange and an ankle monitor. We showed up to court, that day, with our hearts in our throats. The police escorted him in, just long enough for the judge to report the negative paternity test, and send him back to his cell. Once again, thank you, Lord. That could have put us in court for years had he A.) been Dad, and B.) decided he wanted her, despite being behind bars. Although he was in jail for a slew of felonies, he still reserved the right to fight for his kid once he was released, had he agreed to rehab and classes mandated by the court.

As I waited in the hallway for the GAL to brief us on the next steps after a hearing, I could feel a man staring at me from the other end of the hall. He was in a white tank top, and had a look of desperation in his eyes. He walked straight up to me, and said, “Is that ********? She looks just like my brother.” He said her name. And I had no idea who he was, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. The CW saved me and told him to wait in the court room and she would be with him in a moment. Later, it became apparent that he was the brother of the former man whose paternity test was negative. Never again would Baby accompany me to the courtroom, even if Mom did not pose a threat.

Since Dad remained a John Doe at this point, the last ditch effort to find him was an ad in the newspaper, which, laughably—and to our great relief—returned zero results. Although it is bittersweet that Dad never did come forward, we feel simultaneously saddened that Baby may never know who her real father is, and eternally grateful to have overcome that potential barrier. And, Justin has filled the Dad role quite nicely, if I may say so, though I may be a tad biased. 

At one point, Mom’s state-appointed lawyer tried to change the court order to allocation of parental rights, instead of termination of parental rights. This means that, any time between now and when Baby turns 18, Mom could take the baby away from us if she complied with her drug and mental health evaluation and rehab orders. ANY. TIME. IN THE NEXT SIXTEEN YEARS. How this is even an option for a grounded child, who has found stability and unconditional love, is beyond me. There are far more families who are shredded by this stipulation than mended by it. If I were a judge, this would be the first thing I would fix in the judicial system.

Alas, after Baby’s fabulous Guardian Ad Litem confronted Mom’s lawyer about her motive for the switch to allocation, we eventually got that reversed, and after great emotional turmoil and more than a year of uncertainty, parental rights were terminated on September 23rd, 2019. To make matters more peaceful, Mom confessed to the termination—never appealed—and even admitted to the court that she wanted us to adopt precious Baby. Praise the Lord! Now, we were on our way!

On December 9th, 2019 we finally got the news we had been hoping to hear:

From that point forward, our duties multiplied, but they seemed so much more achievable after that news! We provided two sets of fingerprinting across town, because apparently our prints changed that much in a year (?), and databases are different between FBI and state. *Shrug.* We underwent two home inspections, provided six references of friends whom we have known longer than ten years, attended countless meetings with the Guardian Ad Litem and caseworkers—two caseworkers, because one moved in the middle of our case. Then, once TPR (termination of parental rights) occurred, we were transferred to an adoptions worker, who arranged the paperwork for the impending adoption. That paperwork traveled at the speed of Zootopia’s DMV, and then COVID-19 hit, which brought it to a complete halt.

After a significant four months passed, and several mandated hard-copy documents went missing, and many frustrating re-dos and finger-points, later, we underwent a home study, which is three separate, intense interviews that dug deeply into our past as a family. We were interrogated about how much abuse we witnessed in our lives, if anyone in our family or otherwise has ever committed crimes or abused us in any way. They asked us about traits of our family members, and how those traits shape our parenting style, today. They asked how we handle violence, how we diffuse our anger and destress, how much alcohol we drink or drugs we do in a given week, what formative memories of our families really messed us up as kids and what we’ve learned from it now, etc., etc. Two and a half hours, each interview, and one separate interview for my older kiddo, and they each had to be one week apart. At last, we passed. But, I think this moment is when it became evident why good foster families are very hard to find. Hats off to the foster families with the goodness in their hearts to endure this cross with no complaints. We could all learn so much from you.

Nevertheless, the last hurdle had been cleared!

In early March, barely pre-COVID, we had to attend our adoption presentation in person. This is a mandated meeting of the written record of Baby’s history to be read aloud to us. This consisted of every piece of Baby’s medical history, trauma, or any bit of information we provided to the state along the journey, only it was read back to us, and recorded—for liability reasons. Every bit of trauma the poor child went through at birth and thereafter was recorded, as was every setback Mom suffered, and every medical or traumatic report of sickness or troubling communication we had with Mom within the past two years. It was emotional, and it was all at once. Sixteen pages-worth. Then, they burn ya a disc for some easy listening, later. They had to stop to hand me some Kleenex when my sobs unleashed with a vengeance at one point.

But, if you asked me to do it all over again, without blinking an eye, I would. Because, not only is Baby the most joyful, determined, brave, intelligent, sweet addition to our family, but on October 8th, 2020, we finally get to hear the vindicating words we’ve wanted to hear! I imagine something to the effect of:

Sarah Joy Stollsteimer, I hereby decree, under the supervision of the mighty court vests on me…

Your adoption is finalized!

Okay, so it wasn’t exactly like that, but here, see for yourself – pretty close!

I am here to tell you that two years and 19 days after that uncertain, torrential-downpour drive home from University Hospital, and almost a year after the “Great News” email we received, Sarah is officially ours, though deep down, our spirits told us she always was.