Our Journey to Emma

Dear Emma,

This month you legally became our daughter. Each day you have been in our lives we have thanked God for introducing you to us.

Your laugh is contagious.
Your willpower is impressive.

You love being outdoors.
You love learning and exploring.

Your strength is pure.
You love your family.

Each of us has a story.

A narrative of the journey
that brought us here,
and all that we have survived.

This our story of how you joined our family.

Your brother, Joshua, passed away in December of 2012.  We had always hoped to have children; yet, as I am a carrier of Menkes Disease, we did not want to run the risk of losing another child or passing on the gene deletion to the next generation. We made the choice to pursue adoption. Once we had made the decision, all other options seemed out of place. It became our new normal.

Saying our journey to you took many turns is an understatement. It is always strange to reflect on the choices we make in our lives, that we no longer consider as choices, only the path for which we were intended. I struggle for grace when people tell me that Josh was intended to pass on from this life, yet we would be left here to continue living ours. I wonder what it would be like to have an eight year old right now, yet, I look at you and am thankful for our life together. I know one would not be without the other. I don’t think it is fair that we couldn’t hold you both.

One of our friends brought this sign to hang in your nursery. She said she thought Josh would want you to have it. We agree.

Hearing we planned to pursue adoption, a family member suggested we look into one of the two licensed adoption agencies in the state. We met with an adoption counselor and learned their mission was “to provide loving opportunities within nurturing environments of hope, dignity and love.” It sounded like the perfect fit for our family. We poured the next few months into the process of building and financing our adoption portfolio.  There were background checks, deposits, trainings, paperwork, payments, and even more paperwork.

As we moved through the process, the agencies expectation for an open adoption was always a part of our focus.   As parents who had lost a child, our hearts were guarded, but we also knew one of the highest risks of an open adoption is what they called a “change of heart.” We openly discussed with each other, our social worker, and our family counselor, that if the worst case situation was that the child would be with another family instead of us, it was a more humane option than a child carrying or dying from Menkes Disease.

One of the required adoption forms asked us to identify what medical conditions we would be open to care for with a child.  We met with Josh’s trusted pediatrician and she walked us through the risk factors of each of the items on the list.  Our pediatrician’s guidance and friendship helped us move forward. To this day, she continues to be one of the individuals we lean on. She professionally introduces herself as our family pediatrician, but to us, she is family.

In March 2015 on what would have been Josh’s 4th birthday, while a Montana spring style blizzard raged outside, we participated in a workshop to fulfill the training hours for licensure as an adoptive home.  We checked all the boxes, completed each of the procedural steps, and did our best to ensure the agency knew our ability to care for a child. In retrospect, we recognize our adoption profile was limited, but at the time we could not imagine it was anything but open.

Some people joke about adoption the same way they do teaching “those who can’t do, teach” and “those who can’t bear, adopt.” We wanted so badly to feel whole again, and although we understood a child would not fill Josh’s void, we felt we could support a child who had a similar feeling of loss.  The last step before we could be on the “ready and waiting list” was to complete an adoption profile. The profile is what the agency shares with the birth mother so she can select the right home for her child. It was an odd challenge to compose a piece that would indicate we were good people who would love a child as though s/he was our own, while still being careful to not say we were better.

These were our letters:

Now, as I reread these letters, I wish I could mail them to your mom. If your mother would have been able to chose, would she have picked us? It has been over two years since she last held you. I hope she would want you to be in our arms knowing she could not hold you in hers.

The first year we were on the ready and waiting list we were giddy. The way it was explained to us was that at any moment we could receive a call that we had been matched with a child. The agency was cautious to not give any kind of timeline for a placement.  They encouraged us to not purchase anything for the nursery that could expire, pointing out Walmart was open 24 hours a day for a reason. While we listened to their practical advice and waited to purchase a crib and car seat, we were hopeful for a placement. The past two years of grief had worn us down. Now, when we walked by Josh’s nursery, we found hope sitting next to despair instead of only loss filling the room. That first year on the list we didn’t commit to any extra assignments at work. We didn’t plan any trips that couldn’t be canceled on short notice. Each time we left town, we made sure our emergency contacts knew how to get ahold of us, just in case the agency called to say we were matched with a baby. I distinctly remember fishing on Ashley Lake and having the whole boat on high alert for the sound of our voicemail notification because we would only have a small window to accept a placement. Little did we know that our first placement call would not come until November 2016, almost 20 months later.

I look back on our road map from March 2011 when Josh was born, to March 2015 when we were first placed on the adoption list, to March 2017 when you entered the world and our lives. I can not question the turns we took only wonder how the master plan was perceived for so much turbulence brought us together.  I freeze on a memory of a moment that forever altered my path to you.

When I was little, I was afraid of the dark. I would cry until my mom would rescue me with a nightlight.  I was afraid my home would go up in flames, so I packed an emergency backpack with my favorite stuffed animals and fell asleep at the end of my bunk bed.  30 years later I still shout at my irrational childhood self for being so naive. I want to go back to where the boogie men were fictional, and my mom could save me with her love and a simple light.

Now, I am afraid of my memory. One night. His choice. Life changed. No escape.

This summer at a mandatory run-lock-fight training a stranger introduced himself and my memory was forced back to my nightmare of that fall night. Not the same man, but as much as I fought, my mind remained trapped – frozen in an instant. Heart racing, but my body numb to an escape. “Do anything, but freeze” he instructed. My past can not undue it’s learning.

After the assault, your dad and I worked to remain committed to each other when no one would have thought twice about us giving up and walking away, not only from our hopes of children but from each other. We had the support of our loved ones, but similar to grief, trauma is not acceptable in our society. It was during this trying moment that we received our first placement call. There was a baby who matched our family profile and all we had to do was say “yes.” Courtney met with the social worker, was honest, and admitted we needed to work on us before we could welcome a child into our home.

The agency punished us for our honesty and placed us on hold so no other family would consider our home a healthy placement. We were not the picture perfect home and because we were open and honest about our flaws, the agency removed us from the list of potential parents for a year with only a promise to revisit our case.

Your dad and my love for each other, and our sheer determination to fulfill our promise to Josh to live our best lives together still overwhelms any doubt. I understand the agencies oversight to view honesty as weakness and a liability; however, only now as I can legally say you are my daughter, am I willing to admit I still need help and to not be ashamed of feeling broken. The system of which we are a part wants what is good on paper, it is not enough to be genuine in heart.

After we were placed on hold your dad and I fought to hold onto each other and our hopes of one day being parents again. Our broken lives and the broken system delivered us to each other. Sometimes the broken pieces are put together and our lives are melded into a shattered whole.

On March 22, 2017 your dad received a call from his Uncle Derek and Aunt Sue in Washington. You were two days old and had been placed in their home with your birth brother, Collin. Later, I will share more with you about the first few weeks of your life and the 31 months it took for us to legally call you Emma, but know the day you came into our lives was the day you became our family.

We first met you the weekend of Joshua’s memorial half marathon. I remember visiting with our counselor and wondering if it was “the right” time to first meet you. Legally, we couldn’t yet take any steps towards adopting you and although we were hopeful, we were cautious of being too hopeful. With our counselors encouragement, we recognized there is no right and wrong, only the present moment. I held you in my arms for the first time on the evening of Saturday, May 20th. I had imagined the moment for weeks. I fantasized we would look into one another’s eyes and know we were meant to be together. Instead, you cried as my arms were foreign. I chose to step back, as painful as it was, and remember I was a stranger to you. Although that first moment was not as I had pictured, it better illustrates our placement with one another. There was no make believe, only unconditional love and a need for a rebuilding of trust.

That June, your dad and I celebrated our tenth anniversary with a trip to Hawaii. Our marriage had weathered many obstacles and the trip gave us the opportunity to reconnect and reflect on our journey. You were in our thoughts daily and on the last day of our trip, we received word from Washington that we could “begin to pursue the paperwork” for your placement in Montana. Your dad immediately hung up the phone and called the agency to notify them that we were electing to remain on hold from their wait list (our placement of which, we were still waiting to revisit with the agency). When your dad visited with the case worker she cautioned us about all the unknowns of this kind of interstate placement. Ironically, she was concerned that “it could be a long process.” She also informed us that there was a baby who matched our profile and she had planned on reaching out. We assured her we planned to follow through for your placement in our home.

Later that summer, you met us in Missoula for the Missoula Marathon. Derek ran the half and then joined you, Collin, and Sue on the course to witness as your dad and I completed my first marathon. You were on the course at the last half mile. Your dad and I held hands and cried under our sunglasses all the way to the finish line knowing how significant your presence is and was in that moment.

In August, your Aunt Em and I came to Washington so I could spend a week with you. Before we made it to Derek and Sue’s, we stopped to buy a few books. Two of your now friends, Claire and Reagan, had sent a basket of books for you and I wanted to add to the stack. We found You Belong Here by M.H. Clark. The back cover reads “You are a dream that the world once dreamt and now you are a part of its song. That’s why you are here, in the place where you’re meant, for this is right where you belong.” The quote now hangs both in your nursery and in our kitchen.  Daily, they remind us that we are all a part of the same story.

The smoke from summer wildfires had transformed the air quality from moderate to dangerous for infants. So, we spent most of our week together indoors. We read books, FaceTimed with your dad, worked on tummy time, and I completed my masters project portfolio sitting on the floor with you in the bouncer beside me. I couldn’t help but feel like I was playing make believe. I was your mom, you were our daughter, and we were together.

On the last day of that week, your dad called to tell me the agency had called: there was a baby boy in Bozeman. We had 24 hours to either make it to Bozeman, or decide to turn down the placement. I often wonder about that little boy, not out of hope or what ifs, but only in prayer that he is happy and healthy in the family he was meant to be a part of forever.

In October, Sue needed to go out of town and asked if we would be able to come stay with you. The three of us stayed in a hotel in Spokane for almost a week. We went for walks, took a family photo in the mall photo booth, visited family in Spokane, and the three of us started to figure each other out. I truly see this week as our first week as a family.

I am thankful to be able to tell you that your entire life has been spent with our family. The only exceptions are the first two days of your life and a single night at the end of this week. Your dad and I had to leave a day before Sue returned to return to Montana for a mandatory adoption training. It is a clear illustration of the broken system that instead of caring for you for another night, we had to leave you in order to attend a training to learn how to care for you.

A few weeks after our trip to Spokane, Sue called to see if she could bring you for a visit. We said of course! While you were in Montana we learned there was an option for us to care for you for 30 days. Our first weekend with you was spent with dozens of friends and family coming to meet you.  Our neighbors caught me placing a diaper in the trash and were so excited to meet you they almost raced me back into the house to hold you. A friend was roofing our home and recently told us his testimony of witnessing our first days together.

Sue left on Sunday and since your placement was identified as “temporary,” by our employers, we all returned to work and daycare on Monday. It was hunting season so your dad was working crazy long hours. The last day of the season matched with your thirtieth day in our home. Legally, we needed to participate in a home visit in Spokane at some point in the next 48 hours. So, on little sleep and eight-month old you in tow, your dad drove you to Spokane. 24 hours later you returned. 48 hours later, you were placed in our home under an ICPC contract between Washington and Montana. It took us months to get you to not hate your carseat after that quick turn around road trip.

The next two years included home visits, paperwork, a few too many state workers explaining to us that “they dropped the ball,” and so many memories together. I am thankful that our memories are just that, ours. We went fishing, camping, to California, ran a half marathon for your first birthday, and filled our memories with loved ones. You have brought joy to us all.

When family and friends would ask where we were in the process your dad and I got in the habit of saying “one day closer.” We always considered you our daughter, but also were governed and controlled to always place an asterisks next to daughter. It gave us the same unsettled feeling we have when acquaintances ask if we had children and we don’t know how to answer: two, one, zero.

The weekend we traveled to Washington to adopt you, Aunt Em’s Facebook timehop was full of our help flight trip to Denver eight years earlier with Joshua. Time is a strange thing. He will always be our handsome man, just as you will always be our beautiful girl.

Our journey through life with Josh and our road to you both solidify the support and love we receive from all of our communities. Through it all, we were never alone. A friend left this note for you at one of our adoption parties “Never forget that you are very loved and your family is bigger than you know.”  We agree.

On October 11, 2019 you legally became Emma Danielle Tyree. The jury box and two rows of the courtroom were filled with friends and family. We recorded it as well for the rest of the family and to be able to later share it with you.

When the lawyer asked if there was anything we wanted to say about what it means to have Emma as a daughter, we honestly responded that it seemed like an odd question because you “were Emma.” As I read my words now, I wonder how you will interpret them later in life. So much of adoption sounds possessive when really all we desire is for you to know you are loved; you are safe. We accidentally fall into using the common phrase and say “you are ours” when really, what we should be saying is “we are yours.”

After your adoption, it took us a few days to process that the legal tape surrounding your role in our family had been removed. On the drive home, your dad and I talked about the twists and turns our journey had taken to bring us to you. In the end, all that mattered was the road brought the three of us together and we were finally headed home. We had three different celebrations for your adoption, each equally joyful with many of the people who have been a part of our journey.

Your dad eloquently phrased on his social media post “We’ve loved you since the moment we met you. You have enriched our lives and filled our world with smiles. You have always called us Mommy and Daddy and we have always called you daughter, but last Friday, it became official. We love you Emma Tyree. Welcome to forever.”

We love you.

4 thoughts on “Our Journey to Emma”

  1. Wendy and Court, “Our Journey to Emma” such a beautiful from the heart words of love for your Daughter Emma. I went through quite a few tissues reading this welcome to our family to my Great Grand Niece. Love and Kisses from Pentwater, Uncle Chuck.

    Liked by 1 person

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