The most punishing cross can become the sweetest blessing. My
wife, Margie, and I have learned all about this paradox
in our life as adoptive parents. After three years of
marriage, we had yet to conceive a child. We had
tried Natural Family Planning, fertility treatments, even a surgery. Still,
nothing. It left us feeling frustrated that God was withholding
the children we wanted so desperately. So we began to
|The Dunlap Family. Familia’s programs are directed to fostering the development of religious, moral, psychological and social values in the family.|
Before we even married, we agreed to adopt at
least one child someday-inspired by my family´s example. My grandparents
adopted a Japanese war orphan after World War II, and
my parents added three adopted kids to their nine biological
In March 1994, we first met with the local
Catholic Charities adoption worker-and almost miraculously, nine months later, we
brought home our first adopted child: Patrick.
1997, we held our first daughter, Marie Elena-whose birth mother
has since found her calling as a counselor for teenage
moms. One young mom she counseled gave birth to the
third child we adopted-Leo, born in February 2000.
ever wonder if your pro-life prayers are being answered, consider
the graces required for one single mother to defy social
pressures today and choose adoption. Children are adopted only because
of the generous, heroic, painful sacrifice of birth parents who
give the greatest gift of all-life. "Greater love hath no
man than this!"
Adoption can become a vocation in itself, as
we learned. And it´s not always smooth sailing. In fact,
the process leaves you quite vulnerable to disappointment, reversals, and
heartbreak. That´s where faith comes in.
Babe and Switch
After Patrick, we
met several times with a pregnant woman who chose us
to adopt her child-then, after giving birth to her son,
she decided she couldn´t give him up. That was wrenching-the
adoption equivalent of a miscarriage. She and her son remain
in our prayers.
Worse was to come. Just six months
before Leo was born, we brought home a girl we
named Veronica. She was a foster baby, not an adoption,
because no one had located the birth father to get
his consent. We knew there was a risk, but we
gave our hearts to Veronica, hoping she would stay as
our third child. She had been with us fully a
month when the birth father turned up-and to his credit,
took an interest in his child. That set in motion
many weeks of agonizing emotional and legal maneuvering. After three
months of lullabies, bottles and bonding, we handed Veronica back-a
couple of weeks before Christmas.
It is one thing to have
an adoption plan fall through-and quite another to give up
a child you´ve loved for months. It is the cross.
There is mystery here. Why, Lord, choose us to love
one of these least ones for only a few months?
Why pierce our hearts? We can thank God for the
opportunity to unite our sufferings to his; there is profound,
mysterious consolation in that. But the sorrow...oh, the sorrow.
later, we got another answered prayer-Leo, a beautiful little boy
who was ours to keep. God is good, we realized
again; he purifies our love.
Adopting another baby after a failed
adoption helps fill a void, and there´s always rich joy
in raising a new child. But the one you lost
always remains a part of you. Leo is Leo, and
Veronica´s place remains in our hearts. In one sense, her
place is empty, and always will be. But we feel
reassured that God saw fit to trust us with this
child of his, if only for a while. It is
a mystery. Part of us finds peace simply in knowing
that it is beyond our ken.
In May of 2000,
we brought home from the hospital yet another son: Anthony.
We met both of his birth parents and looked forward
to having the paperwork all resolved within a month or
two. I was confident that, after the heartbreak of losing
Veronica, we´d never suffer that way again.
On Father´s Day,
I was given four rose bushes for the garden: a
red one from Patrick, pink from Elena, red with white
from Leo, and a yellow one addressed from baby Anthony.
It took a few weeks to find the time, but
the older kids eventually helped me plant them in front.
With a little care (and lots of Miracle Gro) they
We kept waiting for the birth father to sign
off on the adoption, and he kept missing appointments. The
adoption workers, knowing what we´d gone through with Veronica, moved
forward to terminate parental rights.
Three days before the court
hearing, we heard ominous news: The birth father´s mom had
just found out about her grandson Anthony´s existence. Her son
had not told her-she learned it from the judge´s letter
notifying her son of the hearing date for terminating rights.
It must have been a shock to her.
We arranged a
meeting with Anthony´s birth parents, along with the father´s mom
and dad-confident that all could be worked out, once they
saw the mutual benefits of the adoption....
|Margie with Susannah Rose.|
The grandfather started off
accusing us all of manipulating the birth parents for selfish
purposes. He figured that somehow there must be money in
it for us. He and his wife turned a deaf
ear to what I thought were common-sense considerations: Grandparents don´t
raise babies, parents do. And we were perfectly willing for
them to be in Anthony´s life as his grandparents. Margie
pleaded for all of us to think what was best
for the baby, not what we wanted for ourselves. Once
again, deafness, even hostility. I blew my stack. The meeting
disintegrated. We had no recourse. Anthony would be leaving us.
the end, Margie met one-on-one with the grandmother, so the
two of them could simply talk as women who loved
this baby-even if they disagreed on what was best for
him. We arranged to have the grandmother spend an hour
with Anthony in our home every evening for the weeks
it would take to work out the transition, so he
could know her and bond with her.
That´s when we began
to see the hand of Providence. Perhaps if the grandparents
had known of Anthony´s existence all along, they would have
seen him as a burden. Learning about him as they
did, he became a loved one for whom they wanted
to fight. Maybe that was our mission-to teach Anthony´s birth
family to see him as worth loving. A reason for
On August 14, we started the day by attending Mass
as a family. It seemed fitting that it was the
feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe-the Polish Franciscan who, at Auschwitz,
traded his life for another´s, so that man´s many children
would not be orphaned.
After Mass we took Anthony to his
new home. Margie stayed busy, setting out details of how
Anthony liked to be cared for. Patrick and Elena took
turns holding the baby. Leo, being Leo, climbed all over
everything and threw around some toys. I made polite conversation
and, when Anthony got fussy and various attempts to quiet
him failed, I took him. I held him as high
as my head, looked him in the eye, and sang
the Irish lullaby, "Toora loora looral ..." It turned his
tears to smiles.
After about an hour it was time for
us to go. Margie held the baby for each of
the children to kiss. I took him in my arms
and he started fussing again. I tried to sing one
last time but choked on the words. More tears. I
just snuggled him close, then forced myself to let him
The ride home was very quiet. Leo and Elena
both fell asleep, even though it was still early in
the day; they, too felt the stress. Patrick sat quietly
but offered a few comments. "You know what´s good about
this?" he asked. "First, it´s God´s will. And second, Leo
won´t get into trouble any more." Margie and I held
hands and tried to keep it from being too obvious
that we were dissolving in tears.
When we reached our
driveway, Margie looked at the front garden and commented on
how good the rose bushes looked. I agreed, but noted
that while three of them were covered in blooms, the
fourth one, the yellow rose, had none. Not even any
buds. "You know whose bush that was?" Margie asked. We
looked at each other and knew: Anthony´s.
Prayers of friends
and family won us the grace to make it through
yet another heartbreak. We went away for 10 days, visiting
family and friends in our native Midwest. For Margie and
me, and for Patrick, Elena, and Leo, to think of
Anthony was to invite quick tears. It helped to go
away and have fun together.
A few days after we
got home, our adoption worker called to ask how we
were doing. She also had some news: Another birth mother
wanted to meet us. Were we open to another possibility
so soon? Could we take the risk?
I wasn´t sure. But
as Margie and I talked, we remembered all the prayers
of our friends and family. And then there was what
the adoption worker told us about this birth mother. She´d
heard all about what happened to us with Anthony. She´d
said, "Oh, how awful! That should never happen to anyone,"
and then insisted on seeing our portfolio. She leafed through
our family pictures and the open letters Margie and I
had written. She said it was Margie who attracted her
to our family. "Me too," I said.
Two weeks later, we
met with the birth mother and father. Both seemed very
committed to the adoption plan. Crazy as it may seem,
I felt at peace. As the due date neared, Margie
and the birth mother would get together to chat over
coffee. And in our garden, an amazing thing began to
happen. The yellow rose bush-Anthony´s-finally started to bud and blossom.
It was October 1, the feast day of St. Therese,
the "Little Flower."
Patrick and Elena brought novena cards home from
school. We began praying to St. Therese, that God would
send "a baby who will be with us forever." It
is said that if St. Therese can grant your prayer,
you will receive unexpected roses.
On the eighth day of
the novena, a friend unexpectedly gave us half a dozen
pink roses. The next day, Margie met with the birth
mother, who said, "I don´t know why, but I just
felt I had to get this for you." She handed
Margie a yellow rose. Someone was looking out for us.
baby girl, Susannah Rose, was born October 17, weighing six
pounds, four ounces, with a full head of very dark
brown hair. The judge finalized the adoption the afternoon of
March 31, 2003. She is home with us for good.
When I cradle her in my arms, I am overwhelmed
by the wonder of it all.
Jay Dunlap, a member
of Regnum Christi, works in public relations
in New Haven, Conn.
(June 10, 2003)