After Six False Starts, “The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me”
In January 2019, then-47-year-old Lisa Freeman of Silver Spring was 2 months from adopting a baby. The child she’d been matched with would be born to a birth mother and father who’d both selected her. With the baby 7 months along, Lisa had a mile-long to-do list for what she’d need to be ready. She told her family the good news.
Then she got a call. The baby had been born 2 months prematurely. That was a shock, but the baby would be ok, and the birth mother had signed the paperwork. Lisa went to the hospital and got introduced to the team caring for them.
Just 24 hours later, she got another call—the adoption was off. The birth father had changed his mind and wanted to parent.
“I was numb,” says Lisa. “It was probably the hardest thing I've ever experienced in my life. I don't consider myself an overly outward emotional person, but this process tapped into every emotion you can imagine.”
It was the first of six matches that wouldn’t end in adoption. But today, she says, it was all meant to be.
In 2016 she’d been teaching a class at American University as part of her job as an administrator there. During an icebreaker, someone shared that she’d adopted a son from Korea. Chatting with the woman later, Lisa told her she’d always wanted to adopt but thought she’d wait till she was married.
“Why do you have to wait to be married?” the woman asked. “You can adopt as a single person.” Lisa had never considered the possibility, and it got her thinking.
The woman had adopted through The Barker Adoption Foundation and told her about the agency. Together they attended a Barker Adoption Information Meeting. Lisa loved what she heard. “I’ll always be thankful for Andrea because she was the one who pushed me in that direction,” she says.
After that first match in 2019 fell through, Lisa had to acknowledge her own hurt and confusion and let others help her. She’d usually been in the supportive role herself, assisting others in getting through hard times. “I actually like to help people with their own stuff,” she says.
“I told myself, ‘The only way you're going to learn how to ride a horse is if you get back on it, so get back on it,’” she says.
No death had been involved in that first match, but the same sadness and feeling of loss accompanied it. Lisa didn't question whether adoption was for her, but she recognized that it would be a process, not a straight line. She wanted to figure out how to protect herself a bit better. As part of that, she determined she’d not tell family members the next time she was matched, so as not to raise expectations.
She also needed to figure out how to deal with the feeling of loss in a way that was productive and healthy. She journaled. She talked to friends. Barker staff introduced her to people who’d also had matches fall through. She attended a Barker support group for prospective adoptive parents who are single.
Her Barker social worker asked whether she wanted to take a break from the adoption process. She said no. “I told myself, ‘The only way you're going to learn how to ride a horse is if you get back on it, so get back on it,’” she says.
All those decisions would serve her well: over the next 17 months, five more matches followed. Of those, match number 6 was the hardest. The baby was born, but on day 22 of the 30-day revocation period, the birth mother decided to parent. “You finally start to breathe and you feel like, ‘OK, this is going to happen.’ You know that you’ve still got another week or so, but you've made it past 3 weeks. And you say, ‘There's no way it's not going to happen. And then it didn't happen,’” she says.
She understood the context too. Barker supported both birth mothers and adoptive parents in their decisions. “If the baby can be with the biological family, that's always the win,” she says. “But if not, there's also a win for a baby who can be placed with a family who wants to love them.”
Then one day last July, she got a call from her Barker social worker. “Lisa, it's finally happening,” she heard on the phone. “I’ve been matched again?” Lisa asked, while inside she was thinking, “Here we go again.”
What came next would change her life. “No, actually effective 30 minutes ago, the revocation has expired and you can pick up your baby boy.” This time the baby’s mother had selected Lisa, but Barker had waited till the 30-day revocation period ended to tell her she’d been selected—the staff didn’t want her to be disappointed again.
“I truly appreciate that they did that,” she says. “I will never forget that day. It was like slow motion. Everything went real slow for like an hour.”
She rushed with friends to baby stores, spending 3 hours getting the house ready to bring home the baby, named Kobe. It was in Buy Buy Baby that someone said to her, “The most important thing to this baby right now is that you're there to love him. He doesn't care about blankets, he doesn't care about onesies. He doesn’t care about any of that stuff.” That gave Lisa permission to breathe.
Ten months later, she can reflect on the 5 years since she started. “Kobe is my child. So that means that everything that came before was part of the journey and it would not have fit. He fits. He even looks like my mom, which is kind of scary,” she says.
The road there gave her insights for others. “Don’t let rejection talk you out of your dream,” she says. And she recommends prospective parents take advantage of Barker’s resources. Her social worker told her frequently that if she needed to process feelings, she’d be happy to talk. “I would say, no, not right now,” says Lisa. “But I always went back.”
She also appreciates that her Barker staff “really took the time to get to know me, the person,” she says. “The folks there have such a high sensitivity to their clients, and they're there to offer support. [My social worker] treated me like a sister, someone who just was rooting for me, who was listening to me, who was really trying to think about what I needed to feel good about this situation. Barker’s Director of Domestic Adoptions and Pregnancy Counselor & Family Support Specialist also were extremely supportive of me throughout this process.”
Today Kobe is 10 months old, and someone recently asked how she was feeling since he came home. “I said, ‘I don't want to imagine life before him. All I want to imagine is life with him, because before him there was a piece of me that wasn’t complete,’” Lisa says. “He truly has been the best thing that ever happened to me.”
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