Maria always assumed she’d be a mom with a house full of kids. After a death in the family, she and her husband decided to start trying for a baby a bit earlier than planned, when they were in their mid-20s. While Maria became pregnant easily, her pregnancy wasn’t an easy one, to the point where her husband wondered if they should stop at having one child. She discusses realizing her birth experience was traumatic, her thoughts on domestic and international adoption, finding herself unexpectedly pregnant while in the process of adopting a baby, and the challenges of having four kids with varying origins.
On imagining family. I come from a big family, with four kids. We were surrounded by people constantly, with extended family everywhere. It was never quiet. I just imagined my life being that crazy, one day.
My youngest brother is adopted. My mother has an adopted brother and sister, in addition to biological siblings. Adoption has always seemed like a part of life to me. However a family comes is just kind of the way it is. Plus, my mother is Mexican, and my father is not. My biological siblings and I range in skin color — I’m very light, one of my brothers is pretty dark. To us, family has always come in all shapes and sizes and colors.
On starting a family. From the time we got to together, we knew we’d want to get married and have kids. We never discussed a number or anything, but it felt definite that we’d have a family, somehow. We also assumed we’d be able to have biological children.
About a year after we got married, my husband’s father died. I think that really triggered his desire to have a family, even though we were only in our mid-20s at the time. After only a few months, I was pregnant. We were kind of naïve: It was our first pregnancy, and it seemed to be working out. Like we’d just made the conscious decision to have a child, so therefore we would.
I was on blood pressure medication from the get-go, starting in the first trimester. That didn’t scare me, though — I think because it was my first pregnancy, and I didn’t know anything different. My blood pressure kept being a problem, and at the end of my pregnancy, I spent about a month on bed rest. This was before smartphones, so I was bored out of my mind, sitting there watching TV all day.
They finally decided to induce me at 37 weeks. I went in to the hospital on a Wednesday night and got Pitocin and all day Thursday, I stalled and didn’t get anywhere. On Friday morning, they broke my water and did Pitocin again. My doctor said she’d let me try to labor again, but if he didn’t come out on his own, it would be a C-section. I labored all day and he was born in the afternoon, at 3:11 p.m.
But after I delivered, I was hemorrhaging. They couldn’t get the bleeding to stop. I ended up having to go into emergency surgery. From my husband’s point of view, he was sitting around, waiting, with a brand-new child and the possibility that my uterus might have to come out. That didn’t happen, but it wasn’t until later, I think, that we both realized how scary this birth was.
On being a new mom. From the time that we were able to bring our son home, the focus was entirely on him. I decided not to go back to work, and my husband was supportive of that. I fell into the role of the stay-at-home mom. It’s amazing that my son wasn’t more spoiled than he was. Now I meet parents who have one child and that’s all they talk about, and I think, oh wow, that was us. People probably wished we’d stop talking about him. But he meant everything to us.
When he was about 6 months old, I found out I was pregnant again. We hadn’t been trying; it just happened. We went through the weeks thinking everything was fine, but at around 12 weeks, they tried to find the heartbeat and there was wasn’t one. It was devastating to us. It was just when we’d wrapped our heads around the idea we’d have another child so soon.
My doctor and I discussed what to do next. Since I’d had a D&C (a dilation and curettage) with the delivery of my son, that would’ve been two pretty close together. We decided that I would wait a little while to see if I would miscarry. It took about two weeks for that to happen. I ended up in the hospital again, for blood loss.
On feeling “baby-crazy” after a loss. It was at this point that my husband and I started to get on different pages. Experiencing a loss was making me feel baby-crazy; the idea of becoming a mother again became kind of an obsession for me. For my husband, he was watching his wife go through everything I’d gone through — and he kept saying that our son was enough for him, that he was fine if we didn’t have more children.
Right after my doctor gave me the go-ahead, I went nuts trying to conceive again. When it didn’t happen that year, or the next two, we started to do some basic infertility testing. At that time, our insurance didn’t pay for any of that kind of testing. We didn’t really understand that, so we were already starting to rack up huge bills. We owed thousands of dollars just to find out that no one really knew why we couldn’t have another baby.
Finally, I looked at my husband and I said, Look, we’re spending all this money, and I just want another baby. I don’t care if I don’t give birth again. I just would like one more child.
On investigating adoption. I saw an ad in our newspaper from an international adoption agency. They were having an information session at the local library. Begrudgingly, my husband agreed to go. I know he did it just for me. We went and we listened, and we saw all the photos of kids from all over the world. When we got in the car to leave, I was ready to sign all the paperwork, mortgage the house, to do this. I remember him looking at me and asking, How could you ever think we’d have the money to do this?
I was just crying and crying, in the car. That was kind of a breaking point for us. We stopped talking about adoption. But my obsession with getting another baby never really changed.
Eventually, my husband said that he would consider adoption, but that he wanted to do more than go to one meeting and decide. I found another seminar that we could go to, and instead of pulling him there this time, we really sat down and discussed it first. We started corresponding with an adoption agency. Something really switched in him, and we decided to move forward.
On international adoption. Russia seemed like a good option for us. My thoughts on domestic versus international adoption are complicated, and I’ve thought about them a lot. Here in the United States, there are a lot of laws that protect biological parents. I don’t always think that’s in the best interest of the children. Selfishly, I didn’t want to spend years looking behind my back and worrying.
Only about two weeks after we finished filling out our paperwork, the agency sent me pictures and information about a little boy. This was in the days of dial-up internet, so I can remember what it sounded like, sitting there waiting for the pictures to load. He was 7.5 months old. The minute we saw him, we knew we wanted to go meet him. Two weeks later, we were on a plane to Russia.
Our oldest son was about 4 at the time. We told him that we wanted to get him a little brother, that Mommy’s belly was broken. He started telling everyone he was getting a little baby in a box. He loved VeggieTales then, and he kept saying that his little brother was going to be named Larry, like the cucumber.
On meeting her son in Russia. We were so naïve — we really hadn’t traveled very much out of the country. We’d been to Cancun, but that was about it. When we got off the plane in Moscow, we were feeling pretty shellshocked. We stayed there for two days before traveling to Siberia. We took a domestic flight, where everyone smoked and drank and only spoke Russian. I felt so out of my element that I cried. But once the plane took off, we both felt like, We’re going to meet our baby.
It was February, about 22 below zero. We met someone at the airport who held a sign with our name and took us to our hotel. Finally, three or four days into our trip, we were taken to the orphanage. I remember we had to take our shoes off and put on slippers. And then we sat in a room with a few other American couples, and we were all waiting to meet the kids.
As soon as they brought him in, I started bawling. He had red hair, just like my oldest son.
On bringing her son to the U.S. After we got home, we needed to set up a court date in Russia. Finally, we got the call with our court date, and I started trying to get our flights. Our whole adoption was so much money, but we were trying to save money — we ended up going to Russia two days earlier because the tickets were so much cheaper. It was nice: We were able to spend time touring Moscow.
While we were there, we bought some beautiful hardback books of the city he was born in. We bought some local stone that was commonly made into jewelry; beautiful things that we could give him someday.
Plus, we knew, because of the way he looks … no one would really know he was adopted if he didn’t want them to. My youngest brother has never really loved telling people he’s adopted, and that’s his personal choice. We always knew we’d tell our son, of course, but the decision about how he wanted to talk about it would be his.
We had to stay in Russia for about two and a half weeks before we could bring him home. We had to appear in courts, which was very similar to an American court — except the only man in the room was the court reporter. Everyone, the judges, the attorneys, everyone in the family court was female. After more bureaucratic appointments, we were allowed to go home. The way the visas worked back then, our son became an American citizen as soon as the plane touched down on U.S. soil.
On adopting, again. My husband’s mom died just a few months after we brought our son home. We got a bit of an inheritance from selling her house, and I did bring up the subject of adoption again. My husband surprised me because he said, If I do it, this is the last time. And I’m going to get a little girl.
Right around this time, things were changing with adoptions out of Russia, especially for Americans. But things in Guatemala were picking up, and it was suggested by our agency. We started all the paperwork about a year after bringing our son home. Our daughter was born that July. We’d seen all the photos and were setting everything up to bring her home. And then, that September, I found out that I was pregnant.
I took three pregnancies tests at home and called the doctor’s office, completely hysterical. I was like, “You people said this would never happen, and I’m trying to adopt a baby!” But eventually, we were able to confirm with our agency that we could still adopt. From there, it was a mad rush to bring her home.
Meanwhile, my pregnancy was going great. We found out it was a girl. I’d lost some weight, and this time, my blood pressure was much better. My doctor was nice, but she did tell me that there was no way I could go to Guatemala late in my pregnancy. My husband came home one day after work and said he’d been able to get the next week off work and he thought we should go down there and visit, before I couldn’t go anymore. So off we went.
There were so many adoptions taking place that they called the Westin we stayed at “the baby hotel.” There were floors for adoption, rooms on each floor that had been turned into family rooms, with bottle warmers and diaper-changing stations. Everyone who was there was visiting a kid or picking up a kid.
Things were a little different, right away, with our daughter. Her foster mom was clearly meeting her basic needs, but I thought she needed a lot more stimulation. Her head was flat, and she was a little bit developmentally delayed. I cried, giving her back. We have a photo album of the time and even now, my daughter will look at them and say, “You were crying the whole time!”
Finally, we got the paperwork saying we could come back and get her. It was too late in my pregnancy to go. I spent the whole night before my husband left barking orders, getting everything ready. He was nervous; he was starting to freak out. But I told him to suck it up and go get her. And that’s exactly what he did. Less than one month later, I went into labor.
On having four children. My pregnancy had been wonderful, and my delivery was how I think everyone should experience it: I had an epidural, and I was awake the whole time. I had no complications. We felt so blessed. Our girls are ten months apart.
From the get-go, though, I was hit with the realization that life wasn’t always going to be easy, having kids who don’t all look like each other. The hospital had very strict rules that only siblings could visit the mother and newborn. My parents brought up the boys — who again, are both light-skinned with red hair. My husband brought up our daughter, who’s Guatemalan and dark-skinned. A nurse stopped him and said, “The sign clearly states that only siblings can come visit.” He just said he knew, and kept walking. When he told me, I just started bawling. It was the greatest moment of my life, having all of my children — and this nurse had an opinion on my daughter?
It was 2006. Our oldest had just turned 6, our second wasn’t even 3 yet. And we had a newborn and a 10-month-old. Two on formula, and three in diapers. It was a blur, and we were tired. But it was the happiest time of my life.
Our older daughter was a little over a year when I talked to our pediatrician about my concerns. She was behind on a lot of things, so we decided to put her into an intervention program. Eventually, she was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, very high-functioning.
On family origins. We’d asked a doctor once, how to talk to our kids about their origins. He just told us that we would know when they wanted more information, that we just have to let them know it’s there if they want it. We start by telling them about how they were born somewhere else, that the decision their birth mothers made was a very difficult one.
My husband and I used to wait for the day that one of the kids might, in anger, say we loved our biological kids more, or loved our adoptive kids more. But I can tell you that rarely do my kids ever use the terminology “adoptive” or “biological.” It’s just not a distinction to them. Yes, they definitely sometimes accuse us of liking one child more — but it has nothing to do with those categories. It’s just not how they see our family.