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How Families Are Made
Women often navigate a maze to motherhood filled with tales of infertility, protracted delays and disappointment; or, as is often the case, sheer dumb luck
The parade of pregnant bellies marched past the front counter all day long — the air, filled with hope and anticipation, buzzed with the excited chatter of moms-to-be.
Emily Rosenberg, the owner of Bella Belli Maternity in Birmingham, watched and listened like an outsider looking in. Her customers, many of them random strangers, each had the one thing she wanted more than anything else in the world: a viable pregnancy.
Motherhood had become a prospect that seemed more and more uncertain for Emily. It was as if life was playing a cruel joke: The maternity storeowner, constantly surrounded by pregnant women, was unable to sustain a pregnancy.
Behind the scenes, Emily had suffered multiple miscarriages. Sometimes the pain, loss and heartbreak consumed her. Sometimes, she couldn’t bear to be inside her own business.
“There were times when I didn’t come into work because I couldn’t and times I would come in and they’d make me go home,” Rosenberg recalls. “I just kept thinking, ‘What in the world did I do that was so bad that God would do this to me? What did I do wrong?’”
She says it felt like some sort of cosmic punishment; yet, things started off so well. After working as a campaign associate with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, Emily opened her trendy maternity store in 2004. Business was booming and life was carefree for the then 29-year-old small business owner.
A year later, she married her husband Darren, the fourth-generation owner of West Friendship Materials, a Detroit-based stone and masonry supply company. Like most young, married couples, they planned to start a family someday. But, they had no idea what an emotionally devastating-yet-thrilling rollercoaster ride it would take to get there.
“We got married in July 2005 and starting trying in January 2006,” Emily recalls. “We just decided we were getting older and we really wanted kids relatively soon. I got pregnant right away, the first month.”
But the excitement soon faded. Emily had a miscarriage six-seven weeks into her first pregnancy. Disappointed, but determined — and not overly concerned — she tried and got pregnant again about six months later, only to have another miscarriage again at six-seven weeks.
“I think at that point we went to see a few different fertility specialists,” she says. “We never found out what was causing it. We were never 100 percent sure.”
The rollercoaster had two more peaks and valleys; twice more she got the exhilarating and hopeful news she was pregnant, twice more it all came crashing down with heartbreaking loss.
After her fourth miscarriage, one doctor cavalierly told her, “I don’t think you’ll ever hold a pregnancy.” At that point, Emily and Darren started looking into adoption but, as she puts it, “I was really not for it at the time.”
“I think you personally have to be 100 percent ready before you can adopt. At first, I was still freaked out about the whole thing,” she says. “Darren was a little bit more on board. But, the minute you decide to adopt, you’re having a baby, and it doesn’t matter where the baby’s coming from. Once you make that decision, you feel like there is a baby waiting for you.”
There was … and not just one.
Only in Real Life
A short time after meeting with Cathy Eisenberg, executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit agency Child & Parent Services in Bingham Farms, a sequence of events quickly unfolded for Emily and Darren.
“The agency called in January and said we should get them our information because a situation had come up that might be of interest. We made a life book, like a big scrapbook, filled with pictures of us, how we met, our families, our interests, etc.,” she says.
“We turned it in on Friday and on Monday they said, ‘The birth parents picked you.’ I hadn’t fully accepted this was how we were going to have a child. But, I took the next few days to really think about it and realized these people picked us. There was a child who was about to be born who needed a family. All we’d wanted for the last two years was to have a baby. How could we turn this down?”
The birth mother was already five-months pregnant. Once they’d agreed on the adoption, Emily went with her to all of her doctor’s appointments from that point on. They also met the father.
She and Darren were there at the hospital when their son, Ryan (now 3 years old), was born. They brought him home on Mother’s Day 2008. “It was the best day of my life to be able to do that,” Emily recalls.
But there’s more to the story: When Ryan was just 3 weeks old, Emily realized she was late getting her period and couldn’t understand why until she took a pregnancy test; it was positive.
“I just assumed I’d have another miscarriage,” Rosenberg says. “But, I didn’t.” Their daughter, Samantha, was born nine months later.
And, despite the dire predictions of doctors, Emily, now 35, is pregnant again. The couple’s third child is due in September.
“It was fate; we were supposed to be Ryan’s parents,” Emily says definitively. “I truly feel that Ryan brought us Samantha. I really think Ryan helped bring both of them. I feel so blessed that we were able to experience both experiences.”
The Waiting Game
While things happened seamlessly and in short order for Emily and Darren, their adoption story is far from typical. Eisenberg, a licensed social worker and co-founder of Child & Parent Services, knows that firsthand.
She adopted two children herself back in the 1980s and has spent the last 25 years helping couples (many of them Jewish) navigate the sometimes frustrating, complicated and expensive legal — and emotional — process.
“I know as a Jewish person there are a lot of challenges,” she says. “Over 25 years I’ve seen hundreds of birth moms, and we always ask them what they’re looking for in choosing a family. Religion is always right up there.”
Eisenberg’s agency handles domestic, international, interstate attorney-assisted adoptions and various other arrangements. Fees vary, but she says the average cost of a domestic adoption is $15,000 plus birth-parent expenses like medical bills, rent and utilities. Interstate adoptions are $20,000-$30,000.
International adoptions (where the adoptive parents choose the child, rather than waiting to be chosen by birth parents) can range from $25,000-$40,000. Depending on the flexibility of the couple and what they’re looking for, an adoption can take months or even years. In some instances, the birth mother may change her mind.
In Michigan, an adoption is not final until both parents consent, voluntarily release or terminate their parental rights. This can take a month or more after the baby is born.
“We tell every adoptive family there are no guarantees and there’s no way we can predict,” she says. “You never know if a birth mom is being dishonest; you really don’t know.”
Eisenberg calls Michigan a “slower state,” where fewer infant adoptions seem to occur. In her experience, the most adoption-friendly state is Texas. She believes Russia currently has the best international program for families.
“Adoption is not easy,” she says. “But it if it wasn’t for adoption, I would not have two children. To this day, my daughter is the most incredible advocate and proponent of adoption.”
Have Kid, Will Travel
Lisa Bronstein, 42, of Huntington Woods began struggling with infertility a decade earlier, at age 32. She and husband Eric sought to expand their family employing adoption as one of several methods.
The Bronsteins turned to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), a process by which embryos are made in a lab, to have their first child, Jacob. After two failed attempts, Lisa had a successful pregnancy and the baby was born in May 2004.
“Keeping the difficulty we experienced in mind, we restarted IVF in hopes of a second child just 7 months after the birth of our first,” she says. “But it took years longer and countless procedures and miscarriages before we recognized that having another child was immeasurably more important than how we got that child. I went through a lot of heartbreak and tears to reach that point. Looking back, I wish I could have reached that decision years earlier.”
The couple spoke with many agencies and selected Adoption Network Law Center, based in California. They were asked to decide what they would accept in terms of race, family health history and potential exposure by the birth mother to drugs and alcohol, etc. They completed the paperwork and began the process in June 2008.
“Six weeks later came the call we were waiting for,” Lisa says. “A birth mother had picked us and was on her way to the hospital to deliver ‘our’ baby.”
But, the situation quickly fell through. While the mother had signed off on the adoption, it turned out the father had not. The next two potential adoptions also fell apart.
(In one case, the Bronsteins discovered the birth parents had lied about being arrested on drug charges; in the other, the mother, having her sixth baby, had apparently illegally promised the child to a couple she met over the Internet.)
“Finally, in February 2009, we received another call that we’d been picked by a birth mother,” Lisa says. “After speaking with her, we knew we’d found the right match.”
They met the woman the day before their son, Evan, was born. He was placed in their arms just a few minutes after his birth. The couple had to remain in California for 8 days before they could legally bring their son home.
“We felt right away that he was part of our family,” Lisa says.
The Bronsteins’ story also has a surprise ending. Two months after returning home to Michigan, Lisa learned she was pregnant. It was a high-risk pregnancy, but their third son, Benjamin, was born in March 2010.
“People ask me all the time if I feel differently about any of our children, and the answer is a resounding ‘No,’” Lisa says. “Each child joined our family in a different way, and we love them all the more for the challenges and surprises we encountered trying to have them. I cannot imagine our family with any different children, but I do wish I would have come to terms with my situation and had been willing to embrace adoption sooner instead of looking at it as a last resort.”