by Paolo Carrion
After over a year of paperwork, interviews, fundraising and dozens of rejections, Adam and Hannah Southerland finally held a baby in their arms.
“I still get emotional thinking about it,” Hannah said.
They sent the cute profile book of themselves to dozens of families, drove three hours on a day’s notice, spent days filling out paperwork and checked their email every hour. Families said no for months until Adam and Hannah met Deb in July of 2017.
She was due in November, and they were excited at the idea of having a baby for Christmas. When they met, Deb (name changed to protect her identity) was technically homeless; her mom had kicked her out of the house. By the time the baby arrived she had moved into low-income housing and signed up for food stamps.
In those five months, Adam and Hannah did what they could to help Deb in any way that she needed.
“God has put a hurting mom in our lives. How do you not love on her?” Adam asked. “No one does an adoption because things are going good. Everyone is somewhat of a crisis pregnancy. From the beginning, we said, ‘as much as this is about a baby, we want to love on a mom, also.’” Adam and Hannah began canceling meetings and appointments to minister to Deb. They saw her almost weekly, taking her to get groceries and to pick up belongings from her mother’s house, or to just get a meal and spend time together.
In late November, they took Deb to the hospital to get her high blood pressure checked. She tested positive for preeclampsia, which can lead to brain injuries, blood clotting and eventually infant death. The C-section was unexpected but necessary. The Southerlands donned scrubs and joined the team of nurses. Hannah held Deb’s hand during the procedure, and Adam stood to the side, ready to take pictures with his phone.
And on Nov. 28, 2017, their baby was born. “Dad, do you want to cut the umbilical cord?” the hospital staff asked Adam. They already knew he and Hannah were adopting the baby. Adam cut the umbilical cord and held the baby first. Their baby. They planned to name him Boaz Brock, and they spent that night changing his diapers, feeding him and loving him.
The next day, something felt off. Deb had grown withdrawn overnight. She had already placed a child for adoption, and while it’s not the same as a miscarriage, it felt like she lost a baby. It’s difficult to relive that feeling.
Deb had become more and more quiet with each passing hour. The original plan was for the Southerlands to move into a separate hospital room while Deb recovered, but she insisted they all share a room with the baby.
“Whatever she wanted, we were going to do,” Hannah said. “Whatever she needed.”
Still, it’s difficult to explain the disappointment they felt when Deb told them she wanted to keep the baby.
“Our flesh was saying ‘we hope you struggle,’ because we could have given this baby everything,” Adam said. “But that’s not right … but we had to tell her we love her, because we do.”
So they prayed. “God, you love this baby more than we do. We hope that you provide for him.”
They said goodbye, kissed the baby and left the hospital, past the confused doctors who must have been wondering why they were leaving with an empty car seat.
“It was a hard 45-minute drive home,” Adam said.
“It was the worst day ever,” Hannah laughed.
On their blog, they wrote “We had just spent two days loving on a baby that we thought was soon going home with us to be our son.”
Disappointed, they went back to sending out the profile book to families looking to make an adoption plan. Adoption had been on their hearts for years, before they even started dating. After moving to Cedarville University, where Adam works as the resident director for the Brock residence hall, they began talking about the possibility of adopting a child before having a biological one. And, although it started as a joke, their mindset soon shifted from “what if” to “why not?”
“We’re not adopting because we believe we have fertility issues,” Adam adds. “We’re adopting because of the Gospel.”
It was a strange thing to explain to their families.
“The Bible doesn’t say anything about ‘taking care of orphans if you’re infertile.’ You know what I mean?” Hannah said. “Adopting because you can’t have your own [biological] kids is well and great; lots of people do that, and that’s still a great reason to adopt. But for us, we were like, ‘well why does that have to be the only reason?’ We’re all commanded to be taking care of orphans in some way, whether you’re single, whether you’re married, y’know? And that doesn’t mean everyone is adopting — but in some ways you should be doing that ministry. But we had a home and a place that we could adopt, and that was what we felt like the Lord was leading us to do.”
Shortly after they began praying seriously about whether or not they should adopt, Cedarville president Dr. Thomas White announced to the faculty and staff that the university would begin an adoption reimbursement for employees.
Adam and Hannah definitively decided that they would adopt, they just had to decide when. One day, after praying about when to begin the adoption process, Adam found a letter tucked under the door to their apartment.
“For the adoption” was written across the envelope, and $250 was inside. And so they started the paperwork in February of 2016, through Building Blocks Adoption service. It took almost eight months before they made it onto the waiting list.
The pre-adoption process included a fire inspection for their apartment, medical exams and fingerprinting, as well as a home study, “the beast” of the application process, as Adam refers to it. The adoption agency sent a social worker to their home to interview them — to ask about their relationship with their family, where they’ve lived, where they went to school, and other in-depth questions.
The home study lasted three separate visits, one a month. By early August, they were ready to look for a birth mother.
The agency would email them with a birth mother’s profile, providing all the details they had; her age, how many kids she has, health issues, why she wants to adopt out and when the baby is due. If Adam and Hannah wanted to be considered, they’d ask the agency to send the birth mom their online profile.
“You want to respond quickly because you wanted to be one of the first people they saw,” Adam said. “So I’d have notifications on my phone on … I’d be in a meeting with a guy and my phone would buzz and I’d be like ‘sorry, I have to respond to this.’”
There were almost 50 families looking to adopt a newborn, so Adam and Hannah had to market themselves.
They wrote and printed a profile book, which detailed everything from their family life and culture to their favorite TV show. If the birth mother was interested after viewing the online profile, she could request the physical photo book. It was a way for a birth mother to get to know Adam and Hannah as intimately as possible before deciding to meet in person.
They sent their profile to almost every birth mother they could, and met in person with six of them. Still, all of them gave the same answer: “no.”
“Why don’t they like us?” Hannah asked Adam.
When they rushed Deb to the hospital in November, they were convinced they’d come home with a son. After going home without a baby, they went back to submitting their profile to mothers, even though they weren’t emotionally ready.
“We thought it would take another year,” Hannah said.
Ten days later, they got a match. The mother was due in another 10 days, on Dec. 20. Did they dare hope for a baby for Christmas?
They met in person a few days later at a Mexican restaurant. It was an unusual meeting, by the Southerland’s standards. The mom had a list of questions to ask, some related to the adoption, others included their favorite holiday.
“Will you even tell her she’s adopted?” the mom asked.
The birth mother and father — it’s unusual for the father to be involved with an adoption — wanted to be certain that the baby would not grow to hate them. And the baby couldn’t hate them if she never knew they existed.
“We don’t want her to think we didn’t want her … we do love this baby.”
Adam and Hannah told them that they planned to tell the baby she was adopted early, and to tell her they love her. The Southerlands also said that, if they were comfortable with it, they’d like to have an open and continued relationship with them after the adoption.
The idea of a continued relationship with their baby or the adoptive family was alien to them; they were convinced they would be saying goodbye to their child forever. Meeting with Adam and Hannah was the first time they considered it.
And even though the mother declined to trade numbers with the Southerlands, the adoption agency told them she decided to officially match with them the same day.
They could only communicate with the mom through the adoption agency. After they sent a thank-you for matching with them, they had very little communication. It was a very different relationship from the five-month close friendship they had with Deb.
“We were used to being needed,” Hannah said.
Even though they wanted to get excited, they were ready to be heartbroken again.
Dec. 20, the baby’s due date, came and went. The agency told them the mom still had not gone into labor.
Dec. 21 came and went.
At 2 a.m., Dec. 29, the agency called; the mom was on her way to the hospital.
Adam and Hannah grabbed their go bags and left. The labor was quick. By the time Adam and Hannah arrived, the baby was already born.
“I kept telling myself ‘this is not my kid,’” Hannah said. “This is her baby. We’re just here to support as much as possible.”
They spent some time with the baby, then stayed overnight with a friend in Columbus. When they went back to the hospital, the doctor told them that the birth mother was ready to be discharged as soon as she woke up. By 1 p.m., she left, leaving the Southerlands in charge of the baby. Their first choice for a girl’s name was Georgia Wren, but after they met her, they decided she looked more like a Wren.
Even though they and the birth mother had signed papers making the Southerlands Wren’s legal guardians, they still weren’t her official parents. The process would still take several months, during which the mother could change her mind.
They found that the mom had left a note for them with a nurse. She left them her phone number and thanked them for their support. She wanted to stay in touch.
Wren still hadn’t been discharged from the hospital, so Adam and Hannah stayed one more night in a hotel.
The next day, they wrapped up the baby and drove home on snowy, winter roads. It was the most nerve-wracking drive Adam had ever experienced.
“We didn’t even talk much, it was just really peaceful,” Hannah said. “Well, Adam was white-knuckling the car. But I was in the back, staring at Wren.”
It all happened so fast — from the disappointment just a few weeks earlier, to meeting Wren’s mother for the first time, to suddenly driving home with a newborn baby daughter.
Still, Wren’s mother could change her mind and choose to keep her, up until the paperwork was completed.
“What’s worse than leaving a hospital without a baby? It’s taking a baby home for four weeks and then having to give the baby back,” Hannah said, laughing. “That’s worse!”
But their attorney assured Adam and Hannah that at this point, after the mother left the hospital without a baby, it was incredibly unlikely for the mother to change her mind.
On Aug. 22, after six months of being legal guardians, Hannah and Adam officially became the parents of Wren Noel Southerland.
Now 11 months old, Wren is energetic and loud as she crawls around her parents’ apartment. It’s delightfully difficult to focus on a conversation with her parents as she gleefully knocks over a water cup and tries to steal tablet pens.
Paolo Carrion is a junior journalism major and the Arts and Entertainment section editor for Cedars. He is learning how to cook, and his roommate is very proud of the sriracha-glazed chicken he made for dinner that one time.