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A Man’s Life: A Father’s Journey

“You have a daughter. She’s beautiful. When can you come pick her up?”

by Greg Castanias ’87

We arrived at adoption like most couples do—after trying to have children without assistance, and then with the assistance of a reproductive endocrinologist.

It’s a bit humbling, you know, having to seek help in order to build a family. But you get past that quickly when you focus on what’s really at stake: As President Obama said, “Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives,” family is the single most important one. Jane—and our marriage—was always the foundational rock. But we had more foundation to build.

And so, we found ourselves heading down yet another unfamiliar road.

 

The most important first step we took was to join an “Exploring Adoption” group through RESOLVE—an invaluable national nonprofit resource for people seeking to “resolve” infertility and build a family. Call it a “support” or “discussion” group, this monthly, moderated get-together with other similarly situated couples allowed us to share some honest, and occasionally humorous, discussions about our frustrations and fears. This group gave us two great gifts: first, a collection of wonderful friends we have kept to this day, one of whom provided the second gift, an introduction to the Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, Texas.

Why Gladney, an agency almost 1,400 miles away? To start, Gladney has a history of stability—it has been around since 1887—and a demonstrated commitment to birth parents (lifetime job and other counseling). It also has a residential dormitory for birth mothers who can’t live in their communities; and being in the DFW Metroplex—where Jane had lived for a decade and still has a tight network of friends—brought an added level of comfort.

You don’t have to adopt through an agency like Gladney. Some adoptions take place through private placement; others through the foster system. But agency-assisted adoption, particularly through Gladney, seemed like the right choice for us.

So we applied, were accepted, went to orientation, did a lot of paperwork, submitted three years’ worth of tax returns, wrote several checks, had a “home study” with a local social worker, submitted to an FBI fingerprint background check, and put together a viewbook about ourselves—imagine a laminated, full-color marketing brochure demonstrating that we were the family with whom birth parents should place their child.

And then we waited.

And waited.

We didn’t dare turn the empty room into the nursery it was going to become. For one, what color should it be? Besides, it would have been bad luck to make it into a nursery.  Counting your chickens before the eggs have hatched, if that metaphor isn’t too on-the-nose.

So the room sat empty, with no shades, no furniture. Its only occupant for months was a vacuum cleaner that stood in the corner.

And we waited.

 

One of the few serendipities of being forced to wait was being able to discuss what kind of parents we were going to be. We were going to be more old-school parents—the strictest ones around, encouraging reading and activities, keeping a steady date night during the week so that the kids would know that Mom and Dad love each other and are still the foundation of the family.

In the late spring of 2006, we began to get some “nibbles.” Copies of our laminated testament to our fabulousness as prospective parents were in the hands of a half-dozen prospective birth parents. Only one of these six birth parents had to pick us, and we’d have the child we had long been hoping for.

And really, how could one of these six not pick us? Our book showed a beautiful house, in a kid-friendly neighborhood, with narratives telling how devoted we are to each other, and how ready we are to be some lucky kid’s parents.

But the first birth mother picked another couple, so did the next one, the next one decided to parent rather than make an adoption plan… and four, and five.

Maybe six is our lucky number, we thought.

When the sixth call came, on July 19, 2006, Jane was on the way to a RESOLVE meeting with a bunch of her friends and fellow volunteers. When she arrived at our friend’s house for the meeting, the door opened and Jane burst into tears.

We hadn’t been picked, again.

 

What’s a couple to do? Us, we decided to go on vacation. Colorado, the Rocky Mountains, fresh air and hiking—and forgetting about our six fresh “failures.” We arrived at Jane’s parents’ house in the mountains on the following Saturday, and set out to just relax and enjoy life, away from the D.C. heat and humidity.

Monday morning, we set off on a fairly ambitious hike—one that had us starting at 8 a.m. and not back to the house until early afternoon. One of the many great things about the Rockies, aside from fresh air, cool temperatures, and outdoor activities, is that cell phones don’t work in the mountains. In fact, the only cell service I could get, even at Jane’s parents’ house, was in the form of messages on my BlackBerry device.

When we returned from the mountains, exhausted, I picked up my BlackBerry and saw that Melissa, our Gladney caseworker, had sent me an email with the subject line “call me.” To get a phone signal, though, we had to drive into town and park in front of the little amusement park. In front of buzzing go-karts and kids riding down the big slides on burlap sacks, we put the tinny BlackBerry speaker on so we both could hear Melissa tell us:

“You have a daughter. She’s beautiful. When can you come pick her up?”

She had been born the same day we’d gotten the news of the sixth rejection.

At that moment, before I had even laid eyes upon her, before we had given her a name, Alex became my daughter. And she was definitely my daughter when, the next day, we talked on the phone with Peggy, the Fort Worth grandma who was keeping our Alex in her home until we could get to Texas to pick her up, and she held Alex up to the phone to coo at us.

It took us a few days—rerouting flights, shipping our hiking clothes and boots home by FedEx, trying to figure out where a baby was going to sleep (on the floor, next to the vacuum cleaner?). But we got to Dallas, checked in to our hotel, went shopping for some baby clothes (all of which were way too big, because we had grossly overestimated the size of a two-week-old), bought a car seat at Babies “R’” Us—where we unapologetically parked up front, in the “Reserved For Expectant Mothers” space—and had dinner at the same Dallas restaurant that hosted our first date back in 1999.

The next day was a tangle of nerves, paperwork, one more check—and then we met Alex in person. Her birth mother walked in and presented her to Jane, and for the first time I saw my bride as not just wife, but mother. We had a warm conversation with the birth parents and the birth mother’s mother. When that was over, it was time to learn how to buckle five pounds and change of squirming daughter into a car seat. Then we were back to the airport hotel for one more night (of watching Alex sleep) before heading home on the first plane in the morning.

As we pulled into our driveway, we saw what our friends from the adoption discussion/support group had been doing since learning about our blessed event: Our house and yard were festooned with a six-foot-tall stork, a banner (“WELCOME HOME ALEXANDRA RACHEL”), and a porch full of necessary supplies from a bassinet to diapers.

 

Three years later, a similar storyline played out—an out-of-the-blue phone call as I was leaving the office. We had another daughter, and when could we get to Texas to pick her up? And that was when Ella-Anne became my daughter.

This time, though, we had a third person to tell.

“Alex, you’re going to be a big sister. We’re all going to Texas to pick baby Ella-Anne up this weekend.”

“Oh. Okay. Can I watch Mickey Mouse now?”

Alex got more enthused with time. At the hotel in Dallas, she and I got on the elevator with another hotel guest, a woman. Alex, who has never been the talk-to-strangers type, announced to the woman, without prompting:  “Hi.  My name is Alex. I’m three years old. I have a new baby sister. Her name is Ella-Anne.”

In hindsight, I should have been more prepared for my current life with tweenagers when I heard Alex’s first words to her baby sister: “Hi baby.  Can you roll your eyes?  I can.  See?”

I get a lot of eye rolls these days. That’s okay. That’s how girls look at their Dads.  That’s me—“Dad.”