Thursday, May 12, 2005

Little Leeann--The Adoption Story

This is Leeann and Kyndall on Halloween 2004. This was during the 'trial' week that Rob and babysat Leeann as a part of helping Kyndall to figure out what she wanted to do as far as whether or not to make a plan for us to adopt her into our family.

Once upon a time in a little land called Albany a sweet young girl and her family started attending our church. Her name was Kyndall and she was a very pretty, sweet, yet shy 14 year-old girl. It wasn't a week or two before we received a prayer request from this young lady asking for prayer that her baby would be delivered safely and that she would be healthy. Due date July 15, 2003. I will never forget Rob coming home that night and sharing that little yellow piece of paper with me. He said, "Robyn, is there ANY other way that I can take this? Does it really say what I think it says?" I informed him that, indeed, he was reading it correctly and it appeared as if Kyndall was expecting a baby girl in just a few short months.

Several weeks later I was able to catch some time with Kyndall on a youth group trip to Cannon Beach. I remember walking up a trail with her and another young lady, Victoria, where I heard her story for the first time. She had been living in Florida with her mother when she had become pregnant and when her mom found out she sent her here to Oregon to live with her dad. So here she was a in a new state, attending a new school, a new church, and making new friends all with an ever growing belly! As she told me her story she seemed quite excited about this little life inside of her. She told me that she was going to name her Leeann because it was a combination of Lee and Ann, Leeann's parents middle names. I remember smiling thinking about how thoughtful her name was going to be. Over the next several months I, as well as others, asked her whether or not she was considering adoption. She and her family were committed to raising this little girl, and adoption really wasn't an option being considered much at that time.

On July 23rd, Rob and I caught word that Leeann had been born the night before on July 22nd, 2003. He came home from work so we could go visit Leeann and Kyndall in the hospital. I remember walking into the room flabbergasted at how beautiful this little girl was, at only 12 hours old. I got to hold her and she took my breathe away. It's hard to believe that this 30 pound adventurous girl beside me right now once weighed less than 8 pounds and fit ever-so-snuggly in my arms. We had NO idea that this stunning little baby would become our first child within the next year and a half. God is so good!

We loved Leeann even before we met her! Shortly after we found out Kyndall was pregnant Rob wondered aloud if we would be a possible family to adopt her. (I, lover of children, had of course already wondered this in my own mind.) It didn't seem like the right timing though. I had just received a rather large scholarship, making my Senior year at Western Baptist College all but paid for. As much as we wanted to make the offer, it just clearly wasn't God's timing. This fact worked out well because Kyndall and her family were not very interested in the thought of placing her with another family at this point in time. And so we waited, anxious to see how Kyndall would do on her own with this precious little baby. Three weeks after Leeann's birth, she and Kyndall moved into a home in our community that helps pregnant and parenting teens learn how to care for their little ones, giving them a safe, structured environment to call home.

Kyndall resumed school in the fall walking with Leeann every morning and leaving her at the school day-care while she was in class. Kyndall remained a good student in spite of her newfound responsibilities as a 15 year-old with a 6 week-old baby. It was obvious that she struggled with the desire to just be a kid herself. She cared for Leeann's needs and certainly loved Leeann, it was obvious. She also struggled daily because she couldn't go to games and dances, or just go and hang out with friends. All of the sudden she was dealing with nap times, feedings, bed times, trying to find a place to change a dirty diaper etc. It certainly doesn't allow for much in the realm of a social life.

During the school year I picked Leeann and Kyndall up for church every Sunday morning and youth group every Sunday night. I got to babysit Leeann during youth group which gave Kyndall a much needed break with some good, fun friends. Little did I know I was also bonding with my daughter. I treasured those times and I looked forward to Sunday nights with great anticipation! I loved that little girl! During our drives to and from the church I periodically questioned Kyndall about why she decided to keep Leeann. She simply told me that she needed to take responsibility for her own actions. I appreciated the nobility behind that statement, but it made me sad. I could tell that it was out of obligation more than desire. I wanted so much more for both of them!

By the time the school year ended I could tell that the novelty of being a mom was quickly wearing off for Kyndall. It was hard. Leeann was teething, experimenting with solid foods, crawling, getting into everything and needing to be watched constantly. Not only that but Kyndall was now responsible for her sole care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week whereas before she had spent much of the day in day-care. As the summer wore on I could sense the frustration on Kyndall's part. She was worn-out and ragged, frustrated and alone.

One night in mid-July Rob and I were talking about these precious young girls. We began to question more and more why Kyndall was choosing to keep Leeann when you could just sense how badly she wanted her freedom. We questioned among ourselves whether or not it was because she thought there was no other way out. When you choose to give a baby up for adoption it is generally at birth. How many people would still consider it an option after a whole year of raising this child? We knew Kyndall loved Leeann and that she wouldn't just give her up to anybody. She certainly wasn't a candidate for leaving her on someone's front porch, or even for giving her to complete strangers. Rob and I wondered if she would make an adoption plan for Leeann if she knew that her new parents would love her as their own and if she already knew and trusted them. We knew Kyndall would still want to see Leeann and be a part of her life, but it was becoming more and more obvious that she didn't want to raise her day in and day out. We decided to step out in faith and speak with Kyndall about the possibility of us adopting Leeann.

First however, we knew we needed to talk to her parents (dad and step-mom). At 16 years-old our conversation with her would mean nothing if her parents weren't on board. We happen to be meeting them for another reason when Rob asked if he could change the subject for a moment. He mentioned that we'd taken note of Kyndall's frustrations and asked if we could broach the subject of adopting Leeann with Kyndall. This was a nerve-racking time for us because her dad had previously been very firm about them raising Leeann as a family. We had no idea how he would react. With tears welling up in his eyes he simply said, "That would be awesome." He had fallen in love with Leeann and obviously loved his daughter. He could see that this could quite possibly be the best situation for both of them. He gave us permission to speak with Kyndall.

A few days later Rob and I took Kyndall and Leeann out to dinner at Taco Bell. Rob gracefully said something along the lines of, "We can see that you are frustrated with being a mom, and naturally so, this is tough to do by yourself. You didn't set out to become a teenage mother and you've obviously done well. It doesn't change the fact however that it is tough and frustrating. We just wanted to let you know that if you ever decide that you'd like to explore other options we want you to know that we would be interested in adopting Leeann." Pretty emotionless she said something along the lines of, "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." I'm curious if this is the first time she'd ever thought of adoption as an option after choosing to keep Leeann from birth. Part of us thought it would turn our relationship really awkward, but it hardly seemed to change a thing. Leeann and Kyndall spent that next Sunday afternoon at our house as was somewhat usual. I asked Kyndall if she'd thought any more about it and she said she had. She told me that at this point she still had some things that she'd like to do with Leeann, but that she would keep our offer in mind.

This was a difficult time for us. Rob and I just prayed and prayed and prayed. I think somehow we just knew that God would make her ours, but the decision wasn't up to us. All we could do was wait. About the middle of August Rob and I were picking Kyndall up from drivers ed (we had babysat Leeann while she took those classes) and we asked her where she was at on the issue. She said she wasn't really interested, so we left it at that. Rob and I were heart-broken because we truly believed it would be the best thing for both of them. But the only person who could make that decision was Kyndall. So we continued to pray.

One day in early October Leeann and Kyndall were at our house on a Sunday afternoon and the tension level between Leeann and Kyndall was quite high. It had been two-months since Rob and I had spoken with her about adoption, we certainly didn't want to press the issue. But noting the tension I decided to bring it up one last time. I don't remember the conversation but I remember Kyndall getting somewhat defensive and making it very obvious that it wasn't going to happen. That night in bed I was recalling the conversation to Rob and I told him that we needed to stop thinking of Leeann as our potential daughter and start thinking of how we can best be a support to Kyndall and help Kyndall become the best mom she could be. I cried that night. We kept on praying. I don't think Rob ever gave up hope, but my dreams of becoming Leeann's mommy were shattered that night. While we were praying I simply gave her to God. I'm so glad I did.

The next day was a Monday. I was surprised to see Kyndall's name and number calling my cell phone on a Monday afternoon. I picked up the phone and it was Kyndall, in tears. The first thing out of her mouth was, "If I gave her to you guys, could I ever get her back?" I calmly explained to her that it just doesn't work that way. It was obvious that Kyndall was just wanting to talk about the possibility so we spent the next half-hour or so chatting on the phone. She had found herself in some trouble (not major trouble, but just enough to make her question whether or not she wanted to be a mom or a kid) and wanted to explore adoption further. I was shocked. I had completely given up hope of this conversation ever happening. And here it was, just the next day. I asked her where she was at on the infamous scale of 1 to 10. She said she was about at a 7 or an 8, 10 being come get her right now. I asked if Rob and I could take them out to dinner and discuss this some more. She had to get permission so she told me she'd call me back within the next half hour. With my fingers shaking I called Rob at work and he rushed home. Neither of us could believe this conversation was actually going to happen.

We picked the two of them up and went out to dinner at Red Robin. I honestly don't remember much of the conversation we had. I do remember one of Kyndall's big hang-ups is that she didn't want Leeann to feel abandoned, or as if she wasn't loved. She also wanted to be able to see her and watch her grow but she didn't want to raise her. We assured her that we would never paint her in a negative light in Leeann's eyes. I told her there was no way that she could wonder if she was loved by Kyndall, she had spent the last year in utter sacrifice proving her love for her all day every day. And if Kyndall would agree to a continuing relationship with her, she would never have to feel the strong sense of abandonment that is so common among adopted children. When Leeann has questions about why Kyndall chose this road, she can ask. We dropped Kyndall off more confused than ever it seemed. She just didn't know how to make this decision.

That was the 18th of October. Over the next week Kyndall sought counsel through her parents, the fish house, and an adoption counselor. She just didn't know how to make this decision. One thing they all said is that she could take as much time as she needed, but on the other end her decision needed to be final and permanent. She could no longer waiver back and forth, it wasn't fair to her, to us, or to Leeann. She decided to give herself one month. She would make her decision by November 20th. This would give her enough time to decide and it would allow the decision to be made before Leeann began to use the word "Mommy"--for whoever that ended up being.

On Monday the 25th we found ourselves at the fish house talking with the director, and Kyndall about how to go about making this decision. The director suggested that we take Leeann for about a week, giving Kyndall the opportunity to experience life without her--for the good and the bad. What would it be like to show up at school without her and face all of the questions? What would it be like to say good-bye to her knowing she was going to be spending the next week without her? Would she find herself trusting us, or questioning us? How would Leeann do? What would it feel like to sleep in? To experience true freedom? Could we handle it? Would she like the feeling or hate it? It really was an awesome time of testing for all of us. Rob and I picked Leeann up from the fish house that Wednesday night. We were heading out of town in the morning for a long weekend in Rob's hometown and we got to take Leeann with us. That first night I was scared. We had set her playpen up in our room. I must have checked on her every 15 minutes. I kept waking her up in the process... oops! It was hard to believe that she might soon become my daughter. My feelings for her were already so strong I couldn't imagine them getting any stronger!

Early the next morning (because that's when babies wake up--early) we got up and got ready and packed up the car. Babies require a lot of stuff! We headed out on our 4+ hour drive and excitedly talked about the possibility of adopting her. We constantly wondered how Kyndall's week would go. Leeann already knew us so well that it didn't seem to phase her at all to be going away with us. It all felt so natural. We showed up at Rob's sister's door step with this little 15 month-old girl. Of course Rob's family fell in love with her from the first moment they laid eyes on her. We spent the next couple of days learning what it meant to be parents with the sleep deprivation and all. I took the super-early shift with her one morning and crawled back into bed once Rob woke up. He had bathed her and changed a dirty diaper (his first ever...something he swore he'd never do!). My heart was so joyful in that moment. I knew without a doubt that Rob was just as much in love with her as I was.

We drove back to Albany that Saturday night and reminisced about our wonderful weekend together. The next morning I got Leeann ready and we picked Kyndall up for church. She spent the day with us again and helped me get ready for youth group that night, which was to be a Halloween party at our house. She interacted with Leeann, but was happy to let me do the feeding, napping, and changing of Leeann. I took Kyndall home that evening, without Leeann and she continued on her childless trial to school the next day. Tuesday afternoon came around and it was time to take Leeann back to the fish house. It was so hard for me because I wanted to keep her so badly. I was so fearful that Kyndall would just say, "I hated being without her, there's no way I'll give her up." We talked for about a half-hour or so on her front porch and she told me she was still at a 7 or an 8 and she again, just didn't know how to make that decision. She asked some more questions about what it would like from our end. Would we change her name? What would she call Kyndall? How often could she see her? I answered them all the best that I could. I kissed Leeann and said good-bye to both of them. It was so lonely going home to what seemed like a far-too-empty house. We had briefly experienced the joy of having a child and now it was gone. She stole our hearts. We just waited, and we continued to pray earnestly!

The next couple of weeks seemed to fly by. Kyndall would ask some more random questions from time to time, but she remained at a 7 or 8, only wavering after she talked to some people who weren't real fond of the idea of her giving Leeann up for adoption.

I got a voice mail from Kyndall on Monday the 15th asking me to call her back. By the time I received the message it was too late to call her back so I just kept in mind that I would call her the next day. Only 5 days left until decision making day! The next day, Tuesday, Kyndall called me on my cell phone but Rob and I were having a late lunch at Costco so I didn't bother answering my phone. I'd call her back when I got home. About 20 minutes later she called again and I though whoa, I better answer it, she's obviously trying to get ahold of me! I answered the phone and with a smile in her voice she told me that she had made her decision. I was totally caught off guard, she still had 4 days. The next few seconds seemed like an eternity as she revealed to me my fate. Would I be a mom, or wouldn't I? She simply said, "My answer is yes." "Yes, meaning...?" I replied. "Yes meaning, I want to let you all adopt her." I silently squealed to Rob who was in the driver's seat. Wow, I'm gonna be a mom... and to the most precious little girl in the whole world! Yippie! I could hardly contain myself, but I did as to not make Kyndall feel too strange. She asked if she could give her to us on Thanksgiving because of the significance of the day. We said certainly, but we asked her to consider the possibility of doing it at the Thanksgiving service in front of the church instead. That way we could make it public and we could take her home to meet my family for Thanksgiving. Kyndall agreed that that would be just as well. I picked her and Leeann up that evening to watch a movie (we had already planned this) and we went to the mall to get pick out a new outfit for her together. This is the outfit she would wear to church the day we were to bring her home as our very own. That night was so cool, sitting on the couch with Leeann and Kyndall. It was hard to imagine in a few short days she would come home to stay for good.

Sunday, November 21st was a really good day. Our Thanksgiving service at church consists of people giving praises to God about what's He's done in their lives throughout the past year. Pastor Denny purposefully saved our praise until the very end. He called us up on stage to make an announcement. Of course everyone thought we were going to announce a pregnancy, but most had no idea that our child-to-be would be coming home with us that very day! Rob told a super-brief version of how this decision came to be and we sat down among an explosion of applause. Let's face it, this is just a neat story for all involved! Kyndall went home with her dad and step-mom that day and Leeann went home with us. We were so exhausted that we all took a long nap that afternoon. The day wasn't magical, but it was one of the coolest days of our whole lives!

I won't bore you with all of the details of the nearly year-long process to follow that would make our adoption final, but it's been a wild year! Leeann is such a joy to us and such a blessing. She was literally given to us as a gift from God! God is amazing and His ways are beyond anything I can fathom!

Leeann Kyndall Buhl was officially adopted into our family on October 4th, 2005. To God be the glory! He is good, all the time!