Wednesday, January 30, 2013

and we finally meet the woman who made us parents again

there is a fragile line i walk in writing about our meeting.
as much as it is my story - our story - it is, before even mine - Nyla's story.
so carefully, i proceed...

we got to meet and sit and talk to the woman that carried our daughter.
the woman that made possibly the most selfless decision there ever was to make.
she decided that for the good of her and her other children that she would entrust us to care and raise Nyla to be ours.

words cannot express the weight of this meeting. the honesty and sincerity and vulnerability was so thick in that little corner booth.

before we got to talking we went up to the counter and ordered some breakfast, even though, i don't think any of us were in any mood to eat or drink.
coffee for me and her social worker. coffee and a cinnamon roll for Curtis. a chai latte and a egg sandwich for her. i have kept that receipt for her baby book. tangible evidence that she was real, she likes chai just as i do, that we ate and talked. the time and price were noted and i never want to forget.

after we fixed our beverages of choice we sat down after some chit chat while we waited for our food and drinks and got down to it.

it was beautiful. one of the most treasured hours of my life. we shared pictures of our kids. she told us about hers and we told her all about micah.

the truth that lies beneath any judgment anyone may ever make about a woman who places a child up for adoption is this - we are all more similar that we often want to believe. in the end she is just a mom doing the best she can. i can relate to that. she is a beautiful woman. a woman i could easily have been friends with - and who knows - maybe we still can be one day.

before we left, curtis asked if she minded if we all took a picture together. she shyly smiled and obliged with a joke about how she hates pictures of herself. i agreed and we laughed together.

since then we have placed those photos in our safety deposit box at the bank - saved for Nyla and noone else.

she also let her social worker take a little video of her chatting with us - just for a minute. it was curtis' idea - to have a little snippet of video to save, where Nyla could one day see her birth mom in real life, to hear her voice, see her body language and her smile.

that also went into our safety deposit box. wiped off our computer and our phones. although before we did i must've watched it 30 times. i memorized her smirk, her cheekbones, her jacket. she's important to me and i didn't want to forget.

the truth of the matter is whether we ever have a fully whole relationship with her or not, we are all intertwined. our families are now connected in a way that few ever get to be. this little baby has given our two families an unspeakable bond that we treasure, no matter how our relationship evolves.

before we left we all got up from the table and we hugged. she was calm and sure, not a smidge of regret in her smile or hug. we thanked her although those words seemed to fall short, even after an hour of words shared, thank you seemed silly to say, but we said it anyway.

we then put on our coats and walked out the door, leaving them at that corner table to sign her paperwork.

we walked hand in hand to our car, with the empty infant car seat in the back seat, two and a half hours away from having a baby to buckle up into it...

Monday, January 28, 2013


after not sleeping much again on friday night, saturday finally came. we both woke up early and then woke up micah early to get him over to my parents for the day. we tried to explain to him what was happening that day.

"micah, today you are going to become a big brother. you have a baby sister. do you want a baby sister?"

he seemed cluelessly excited. there was a twinge of pity for my baby boy that was about to enter a whole new phase in his little life. he had no idea what was coming and i was acutely aware that he was only going to be my baby for another hour or two.

i remember after we were all dressed and ready we still had a bit of time to kill before dropping micah at my parents' house. i paced the house and peed about 10 times. Curtis chose the last 15 minutes to start putting together the baby swing. i could not sit still. i was nervous and excited and anxious. a hundred knots filled my stomach.

as we got out of the car at my mom's house with micah my nervous bladder kicked in. i ran to her back door then to her bathroom. then i laughed. i almost peed my pants on the way to their house.

before we left their house Curtis asked my mom to pray for us. she did and it was an emotional, lovely moment. the four minute drive to Panera felt like an hour. we talked about how insane this was that we were going to walk in and meet our daughter's biological mother. walking in to Panera we were nervous. we were 10 minutes early and spotted the her social worker right away. sitting in the back left corner of the restaurant, we introduced ourselves and sat down with her to wait for her to get there. she set us at ease and gave us some suggestions and tips on how the hour would go, how she would guide the conversation if things got awkward. it felt like a long 10 minutes, but with each passing minute i was just getting more and more excited instead of more and more nervous.

what an opportunity we were being given.

then we turned around to see her walking in, walking toward us and all fear and anxiety lifted and there was only joy...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

coming to grips with pink

Luckily since our families already knew about her by then i commissioned my mom to head out shopping with me. After all, i needed newborn diapers and a few other baby items.

Before we went though, i dug through all of Micah's newborn clothes. I pulled out all the green and white and yellow little onesies and hats, socks. I'm not a real girly girl but i knew that i'd need at least one girly outfit to take her home. As much as i like hand-me-downs, i knew this little lady needed at least one special outfit of her own before family no doubt showered her with gifts on christmas.

So i brought my mom to target and i remember just standing in the little newborn girl section. it was all I think i was still in shock. the color of pepto bismol pink kind of made me nauseous, pastel - even worse. so we walked around and i tried to talk myself into all the little itty bitty frilly girlie things.

Curtis had told me to get the necessities and gave me permission to buy her one outfit. She was only going to be six days old when we picked her up after all. she didn't need much. But what was i going to buy her in a sea of pink?

I ended up buying her a sweet black and white floral top with coordinating striped leggings trimmed with hot pink. it was so me - not overly sweet, but actually kind of cute and funky. mixed prints. i was sold. I told my mom after we spotted a few other sweet things that she ended up buying her  - oh man, this is going to be hard, they do have a lot of cute stuff for girls. i slowly found myself coming to grips with all the pink.

so we left, with diapers and outfits and little infant socks rimmed with pink and purple.

we then headed back to my mom's house for nap time. i didn't think i could sit through another nap time in silence alone while micah slept, so i put him to sleep at her place so i could have some company.

However, after not sleeping for two nights, i ended up falling asleep in their living room chair while watching tv.

when micah woke up we headed home for dinner and to spend an evening setting up for baby.

we hooked up the infant car seat in the back seat of my car, we set up the bassinet and the bouncy chair, we found the swing in the garage. This was actually happening. While most people have nine months to prepare, we had 48 hours. it was the craziest feeling i think i've ever had.

Then at 8pm, i realized i forgot to buy formula, so out the three of us headed, back to target to stock up before it was too late.

by the time bedtime rolled around, we were both exhausted and so antsy for Saturday to come. How do you prepare to meet the woman that gave birth to your child. What do you say to the woman who was selflessly choosing you to love and raise her baby?

You don't, i guess. Going to bed (of which i didn't sleep a wink again) my prayer was that we would really be in the moment for that hour with her the next day. that my shyness or introvertedness wouldn't get in the way of telling her all the things i wanted her to know. That we'd be able to enjoy her company and really listen to her. to ask the right questions and have the right answers. To remember every part of her, just in case we wouldn't see each other again. so we could one day tell Nyla every single part of that visit.

So that night, I went to bed with an excited, but also a heavy heart knowing that tomorrow was going to be a day i'd always remember...

Monday, January 21, 2013

24 hours down, 24 to go

all night i couldn't sleep - again. i just kept turning on my phone to stare at that picture. i'm serious. all night long i laid there looking at that little face. those cheeks. but friday morning eventually came and  that's when we got word that Nyla's birth mom wanted to meet us before signing her termination of rights documents on Saturday morning.

See, once a mom makes a decision to place her child up for adoption, she has 72 hours to change her mind. This is why, once she decided to do it on wednesday, she had until saturday to change her mind. in many cases, instead of signing all the paperwork and then having three days to change their mind, they have birth parents wait the three days and then sign the papers at the very last hour of the three day mark. That is why Nyla's birth mom was signing her termination of rights paperwork on saturday instead of right when she decided to do it on Wednesday.

This made for a unique situation. Since Nyla was born on Sunday, December 16 she was only permitted to stay in the hospital until Thursday due to some weird rules at University Hospital downtown, even though the adoption wouldn't go through until Saturday, December 22. Most hospitals  don't mind keeping babies past the usual discharge time period if there is a gap in time until papers can be signed. not UH. On Thursday afternoon we got word that UH was discharging Nyla so our agency was sending a social worker from Columbus to pick her up and take her a foster family that they use for situations such as this - a foster family in Columbus.

it broke our heart to  know that our girl was going from being 10 minutes away (although we couldn't see her) to 2.5 hours away until Saturday. Luckily this foster mom was raved about and we knew she would be in good hands until she was in ours.

All that to say, the plan was to meet birth mom at Panera Bread for an hour, and then she'd stay there with her social worker to sign the papers and we'd head to Columbus to pick up the baby. That way, if something went amiss and she did change her mind at the very last possible moment, we wouldn't be that far into our journey south. We knew that was a possibility, but we prayed it wouldn't be the case.

Still, it seemed like a lot of pressure to meet her. Although she had chosen us from the stack of bios she was given to review, she said he wanted to meet us before she signed to make sure we weren't crazy.

all along we've wanted as open an adoption as a birth mom was willing to have. Meeting her just seemed like a natural step in our desire for openness. But naturally i don't mean stress-free. I still couldn't eat, or sleep. I knew i would have to keep really busy those last 24 hours or i'd go crazy...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

hiding it in my heart and then spilling the beans

so back to the story...

after getting off the phone with Megan, Curtis had to leave for work.
Megan assured him that nothing would happen today, so he might as well go in.

Then Micah started to stir - at 9am - what a gift to have the phone call be uninterrupted. it was such a special moment that we got to share together without distractions.

Before Curtis left for work we decided that we wouldn't tell anyone that day. In reality, there was way too many variables up in the air until Saturday, and the more people we told, the more we'd have to re-tell if something went wrong. if the adoption didn't happen. if she backed out last minute. we knew we wouldn't be able to keep it a secret until Saturday, but for the time being we got to hide our little secret in our hearts for a little while.

however, we did each call a confidant in the hours before curtis got home from work that day - we were both bursting at the seems and needed an outlet since we weren't together to process.

i didn't eat all day. every time i tried to take a bite of food i'd feel nauseous and sick. jittery, anxious, excited. every possible emotion wrapped up into a tight ball of live wire nerves.

Then i had this thought - If we are literally getting a baby three days before christmas i better get my sh** together and get my last few gifts bought and wrapped before my life changes forever.

so, after getting micah ready for the day we ran to the mall. All i could think as we raced through the mall is that it looks like we were just shopping but no one knows that our lives held a secret. there was a baby waiting for us. a little four day old baby that we hadn't even met yet. it was the craziest feeling.
i only have two days before my life changes.

I knew my sister was working that day, so i did my best to avoid her there, knowing that if i went to say hi like i always do, i would start crying and spill the beans. so i avoided Saks and got my last two gifts and left as quick as we came.

The rest of the day was a blur. Micah eventually went down for a nap and i had a few hours of silence just to sit and think. about how i had just finished my job, and how we almost had all the money we needed and how her name is beautiful and how crazy this is that after all this time of reading other people's adoption stories, it was our turn. that some lady actually chose us to parent her child. the thought still gives me chills.

that evening after curtis got home we decided to call each of our sets of parents. Curtis' first and then mine. then we told our siblings. Reactions were all not-suprisingly different, but all were happy in their own respective ways.

When we called Curtis' parents, we told them her name and his mom said, "did you know that was my grandmother's first name?"

Neither of us did. It was just one more confirmation that this was going to be our girl.

When we called my parents my dad answered and told us my mom was sick in bed with a migraine. I said, "But can you just bring the phone up there, we just need to talk to both of you for just a minute."

"No, Jess, she's sick. I don't want to bother her."

"Dad, can you just do it, it'll only take a minute, i'm serious."

"Why? do you have some news for us?"

"Yes dad! Now go up there!" (sheesh!)

So he went up there and woke up my mom and over skype we told them that we got a call for a little baby girl! a healthy, amazing four day old baby girl.

my mom was groggily happy, understandably so, due to migraine medicine. my dad got choked up.

the rest of the night was a blur, except for the fact that at one point, they sent us the first photo we ever saw of our girl...

Monday, January 14, 2013

the story of her name

From the time our case worker, Megan, told us that her birth mom had named her Nila, we both knew that that would be her name.

Soon after, I decided that I wanted to change the spelling from Nila to Nyla. I didn't want people mistakenly calling her "nilla" instead of "nie-lah"

i also had this silly thought in my mind that people would try to be funny and call her "nilla wafer"

i know it was stupid, but as an african american girl in a (so far) all white family, i wanted to take away any opportunity for nicknames that could be offensive, especially if i had the foresight to fend them off.

After Nyla was decided i remember sitting at the dining room table racking my brain for a middle name.

I went through our small list of names that we had prepared for a girl and a boy and none seemed to fit with Nyla, so i got online to look up the meaning(s) of Nyla thinking that that might help.

In Gaelic, Nyla means "Champion" or "Cloud"
In Swahili, Nyla means "Gift"

What did i want my daughter to be a champion of. What was she a gift of?

and then it struck me...


A Champion of Grace
Gift of Grace.

yet, Grace seemed so popular, trendy even. Yet, i knew, that was it.
in that moment I didn't care how many other girls were named Grace, it was right.

I texted my friend Kate with my "dilemma" which wasn't really a dilemma at all.
She confirmed. That was just what she was. our gift of grace.

then i texted Curtis to get his thoughts. i texted him the meanings of Nyla and he was sold too.

Nyla Grace Penick

only later that night Curtis' mom also told us that Nyla (spelled Nila in her case) was the name of her grandmother.

a family name in every sense of the word.

She is a gift of grace to us, that's for sure.

Friday, January 11, 2013

the phone call

It was 8:10 am on Thursday, December 20, 2012. Micah was still sleeping, Curtis was in the bathroom getting ready for work and i was down in the kitchen making a cup of coffee.
Curtis was running late for work which almost never happens. he's usually at work well before 8, but God knew he needed to be running late this particular morning. 

so, there i was, standing, sleepily at the espresso maker, waiting for my coffee when i got a phone call. Blocked it said. I usually never answer Unknown or Blocked calls, but it was early and i wasn't really thinking, so i answered it.

"Hello. This is Jess." i said.

"Hi Jess, it's Megan, from Gentle Care. Good morning."

"Uhhh, Megan? Hi (starting to shake a little) What's going on?"

"Well, i wanted to call because i have a situation i wanted to run by you," she said.


"A baby. We have a baby for you but i wondered if you had a few minutes to go through it's medical history with me."

"Wait, what?! Hold on, can i run up and get Curtis on speaker phone?" I said.
 (while running up the stairs and bursting in the bathroom, trying to be quiet enough so as not to wake Micah (who never sleeps past 8, mind you - another miracle).

"Curtis, Megan's on the phone, she's calling about a baby!" i whisper-shouted.

"Megan? who? which megan? why is Megan calling at 8am?" (he thought it was someone else)

"No, Curt, it's Megan from Adoption by Gentle Care. They have a baby for us!"

We went into our room and i put her on speaker phone. We are both shaking our heads and literally shaking at this point. my heart is beating out of my chest. She explains the medical history, about the birth mom, the birthday, the labor. 

At one point we interupt her and say, "we don't care what you tell us, the answer is YES!"

Then i realize that she hasn't told us if the baby is a girl or a boy. So i ask, "Megan, i'm not sure what the protocol for this is, but are you allowed to tell us if it's a boy or a girl?"

"Yeah i can tell you." she said, "Do you want to know?"

"YES!" we both said in unison. duh! of course we want to know!

"It's a girl!"

Curtis started crying. he's been very verbal about wanting a little girl so bad. i am just in shock and shaking. i always thought i'd have two boys, maybe all boys. but a girl. we're gonna have a boy and a girl. i didn't even know how much i wanted a little girl until that very moment. it's a girl!

"Her mom named her Nila," Megan said, "but of course, you can change it if you want."

we both looked at each other and mouthed, "I like that" at the exact same time. and at that moment we knew, her name would be Nyla (with a Y instead of an I) It was beautiful and what a way to honor her birth mom by keeping her name. 

"She didn't give her a middle name, so start thinking about that too," she continued after we told her we were probably going to keep her name.

the call lasted a few morning minutes with her emailing over all her medical and history documents for us to look over, but in our minds we knew, she was already ours. 

This was Thursday morning. If all went according to planned, we'd be picking her up on Saturday afternoon. 

It was then that the longest 48 hours of my life began...

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

not the start but where i'm starting

about a month and a half ago i got an email from the hr girl and one of my superiors at work. they said they wanted to have a meeting about "the necessity of my role in the future."
as soon as i read it i just knew. i was going to be let go.

a few days later we had a meeting and they let me know that they needed me to come back to my role as a full-time, in the office writer. if not, they'd let me stay on through the end of december, but then have to let me go, with a severance package.
i knew my answer right then, but i told them i'd think about it and discuss it with my husband before getting back to them.
the next day i let them know that i wasn't interested in returning to my old position and that i'd be happy to stay on until the week before christmas. they agreed, i signed a few contracts and agreements and that was that. i would be out of a job come monday, december 17, 2012.

my last monday of work was quite uneventful. i finished up my last few articles, made final edits and delivered them with a short email about how it's been a pleasure working with my team and thanking them for the flexibility they'd given me for the past almost two years since Micah was born.

the next day, tuesday, december 18, i drove downtown to turn in my laptop, my key/badge thing and the documents that i needed to sign. the hr girl met me out at my car to pick up my stuff so i didn't have to pay to park and haul micah all the way up to the 17th floor. i thought that was nice of her.
once we dropped off the goods, we headed a few more blocks downtown to make christmas cookies with my sister at her new apartment.

for the last year, everytime i would complain about my job curtis would say, "just quit, jess." to which i'd respond, "yeah right. i can't quit now, we need this money for the adoption. you say that but you really don't want me to quit now, you don't really mean that."

so i kept working, from when micah was three months old to 22 months. every monday i would put in 10 or more hours to help pay for the adoption, for the child i knew was coming. so when i was finally done, and they told me what my severance pay would be, we both were in shock. it was almost the amount we had left to pay for the adoption. we knew this was no coincidence. God had given me that job to help ease the burden of the steep cost of adoption. but now he was taking it away, at just the right time.

maybe he knew that we would never hand it over on our own. never give up that extra income no matter how much i complained and begrudged it. maybe he knew he needed to just help us make a clean break before a baby came into our lives to eat up all that time i used to spend working.

when i was officially done we joked, "gosh, we're really ready for a baby now that i'm not even working anymore!"

little did we know that on Thursday morning at 8am, only three days after my last day of work our lives would forever be changed...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

showing off

"It's like God's just showing off at this point."

these words were spoken by one of my closest girlfriends who has walked beside us during our entire adoption journey on the day we were driving to Columbus to get our girl.

And it's so true.

Every possible, seemingly minute detail of her story, our story, has just been so beautifully orchestrated. It gives me goosebumps - even after having witnessed it all firsthand, even after having lived it.

Her name (Nyla Grace) means Gift of Grace, and honestly, this little 8lb 8oz baby has taught us more about grace in her three short weeks of life than quite possibly any other situation we've ever encountered.

In the coming weeks I hope to share with you the incredible ways God has clearly - unmistakably - showed up, intervened, and showed us what His grace looks like.

But right now, I've got a baby wrapped on my front and a toddler asking to play choo choos with him, so the start of the story's going to have to wait.

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