Through Pain and Grace Toward Redemption: Conclusion
Falling in love with the Pattersons.
We met Robert and Heather Patterson at the Methodist Mission Home with case workers present. They were young, she in her 20s and he in his 30s. Their story is a common one. Unable to become pregnant, they tried various fertility treatments. When those failed they decided to adopt.
Later I found out that the Pattersons had been selected by birth mothers twice before. Both times the mother changed her mind after the birth, which was heartbreaking for them. In Texas, a mother cannot sign away her parental rights until 48 hours after her child is born. This 48 hour period is a frightening and uncertain time. Emotions are racing, and no one really knows what’s going to happen until the birth mother signs the papers.
Both families were understandably guarded the night we met, but something felt right about the Pattersons from the beginning. Shelby and her boyfriend, H., wanted to meet Robert and Heather in a less formal setting, so we invited them to our home. Jeanene made dinner. Heather brought dessert. We didn’t talk about the adoption. We ate, played games, and sat around talking for a long time. I fell in love with the Pattersons that night. They are honest and sincere people, also gentle and kind. They are very serious about their Christianity, which was important to Jeanene and me, but being religious does not necessarily make you a good mother or father. Robert and Heather had those intangible qualities that made us feel certain they would make great parents.
Later we visited them in their home. They live out in the country near a small town. We ate dinner on their back porch with vegetables from their garden. Robert showed us a workshop out back where he cares for animals he brings home from his veterinarian clinic. He didn’t show us that night, but it's also where he had been building a crib for the baby they longed to have.
A few weeks later the decision was made. The girls made cupcakes with pink icing and we drove to the Pattersons’ home where Shelby and H. told Robert and Heather that they wanted them to adopt the baby. There was a brief moment of silence, then Robert began to cry. After that the room kind of fell apart into hugs and tears.
It was an evening I’ll never forget.
The last days of the pregnancy
In the last months of Shelby’s pregnancy, we saw a lot of Robert and Heather. They dropped by the house occasionally to visit. Shelby grew more comfortable around Heather, so she invited Heather to accompany her to the doctor for prenatal care. I know it was a blessing for Heather to be involved in this way.
Robert and Heather relaxed and even allowed themselves to rejoice. I think they could tell that this adoption was not going to end up like the previous ones. From their perspective, the last days of the pregnancy were mostly joyous and exciting.
I felt happy too. I seemed to me that we had passed through a frightening experience and had been blessed by God with an outcome that was going to be good for everyone. But as we got closer to the birth, it became increasingly clear that Jeanene’s early words of warning were going to be true. No mother can give away her child without an extraordinary amount of grief. Shelby was young and unprepared for parenting. Every reasoned argument clearly pointed to the wisdom of this adoption. But she was carrying a child in her body. And every woman who bears a child has an experience that cannot be explained with reason or logic.
As we got closer to the day of delivery, I sensed a sorrowful resignation in Shelby. She would not back away from her decision, but she knew that giving away her daughter was going to wound her deeply. Jeanene understood and shared this grief with her. A kind of heaviness settled over our household.
The Methodist Mission Home makes special arrangements with hospitals for adoptions. Shelby would remain in the hospital for 48 hours. During that time she would care for her daughter. She would be the mother. That was her choice. The Pattersons had a hospital room down the hall where they would wait.
Three people were allowed in the room for the birth. Shelby chose her mother, H., and Heather Patterson. Friends came by to pray and wish us well, which was a real blessing to Shelby, who desperately needed to be acknowledged as the mother of her child. Those visits provided that affirmation.
As births go, it was fairly uneventful. Lila Elizabeth Atkinson Garcia came into this world healthy and well. For 48 hours she was ours. Shelby and H. fed her and cared for her. Robert and Heather, being as close to us as they were by then, also held her and spent some time with us. But they were careful to stay in the background and let Shelby be the mother.
When the time came to sign the papers, Shelby and H. did not flinch or hesitate. But Shelby was devastated. The joy of the Pattersons brought her sorrow into such bold relief that she couldn’t see them. I met with Robert and Heather and told them Shelby had no doubts about her decision but just could not bring herself to hand her child to them. She needed to sign the papers and leave the hospital without seeing them. They understood. Jeanene and Shelby's sisters huddled around her after the grueling moment of signing - a moment I find it impossible to write about - and took her home.
I stayed behind so that one member of our family could bear witness to the moment that was coming. Robert and Heather came into the room where Shelby had signed the papers. I handed Lila to them. In that moment she became Hannah Elizabeth Patterson. Heather was trembling. The only way I could get through it was to remember the days when I was a pastor and used to speak powerful words at moments like these. I took a deep breath and said,
“The long wait is over. She is yours. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and bring you peace.”
Then I lost control of my emotions and so did they. Never have I felt sorrow and joy so mixed. We formed a ring around Hannah, held each other, and cried.
Then I left.
When I walked into the parking lot it hardly seemed possible that the world had not reversed polarity or society collapsed completely under the weight of what had happened. But no. My car was in its parking space. A janitor trudged to the dumpster with a bag of trash. People were walking here and there.
A child was born, one of thousands born that day. And like all children, her arrival was both a common event and a cataclysmic upheaval.
I know that both of her families will never be the same.
Hannah is a few days away from being 3 months old. This is truly an open adoption. The Pattersons stop by sometimes for a visit. Shelby is going out to see them tomorrow. We will always be a part of this little girl's life. As it turns out, there's plenty of room in any child's life for a few extra people to love her.
If you are interested, here are some photos from the hospital and from a visit the Patterson's made to our home when Hannah was 1 month old.
Shelby has graduated from high school early. She has a job and wants to begin college in the fall. She is doing well, though she is a long way from being ready to do much talking about this. She can't bring herself to read this story yet, but I have told her about the wonderful comments that have been left here. Thank you for those.
A special thank you to the staff at the Methodist Mission Home. They didn't enter much into the story because I had to be so careful about what to include, due to considerations of story length. I left out many practical details that I would like to have included. The MMH staff comforted us when we first called them, provided legal and emotional counsel, and carefully assessed our situation all along the way. They were angels to us, guiding us through this whole thing. If our journey and process seems thoughtful, well-organized, and orderly, they deserve the credit for that.
Everyone whose name was used in this story was consulted and gave permission. Robert and Heather gave permission for me to use the photos as well.