Today we got the email that a judge in Texas has ruled that Lucas is now legally our child.
Let’s back up a bit.
On the afternoon of Saturday, June
We said yes, dropped everything, and got on the next flight to Texas1.
We sat on the plane, knowing very little. We didn’t know the baby’s expected gender2, we didn’t know if the baby had been born, we didn’t know if we were going to land and get told to turn around and go home, she decided not to place the baby for adoption, after all. We didn’t know anything other than “a woman is in labor” and that she’s Mexican-American and the father was believed to be white. Neither of us slept on the flight. I, personally, spent it mentally chanting “the baby is born, the baby is healthy, come get the baby.”, trying to manifest it.
When we landed, around 6am Central3, after pestering the agency a little, they called while we were heading to baggage claim. My heart sank, I almost cried. I was sure they were calling to tell us to turn around and go home. They were not. The baby was born, the baby was healthy, come get the baby.
We got our bags, got our rental car, and drove an hour and a half from DFW to the hospital.
I spent much of this process very sure that the agency, who had done this kind of thing before, would start proactively guiding us any minute now. I was perhaps unprepared for how little guidance I’d be getting.
Which is how I found myself sitting in a rented minivan4, calling the agency and asking “so… now what?”
The told us to go inside, and ask for “Baby Boy X5”. It took a little (possibly hysterical6) coaxing before they told me I wouldn’t be meeting the person giving birth, and would only be interacting with the baby.
So we went inside, Ethan went to the bathroom, and I went up to the reception to ask for “Baby Boy X”. The person working the desk looked at me like I had a third eye and asked what I was talking about. Suboptimal.
After a fair bit of explaining, they told me I needed to go up to the maternity floor and ask there. I collected Ethan, and we rode the elevator up, looking for reception. There wasn’t a reception area. But we found a closed and locked door with an doorbell and intercom next to it, with painting on the wall indicating it might be the maternity ward. So we rang the doorbell.
Someone came to the door and, through the intercom, politely inquired as to why two random guys who looked like they traveled for 6-ish hours were trying to get into the maternity ward. We explained we were there to see Baby Boy X and were hopefully the adoptive parents.
They had no idea what we were talking about, either.
At this point, our luck turned, and a nurse happened to be walking by who knew what we were talking about and took us under her wing. She led us to the NICU while explaining that there was nothing wrong with the baby, but he was in the NICU because the hospital didn’t have a standalone nursery; babies generally just stayed with mom, which mom did not want in this case7. This created some confusion for the hospital, so the NICU took custody of the baby but it was administratively weird for them.
We scrubbed in, and were shown to his bassinet, where we held him for the first time. The NICU nurses wanted to get us our own room, but the supervisor that needed to sign off on it was in a meeting or a surgery or something. So we sat in the NICU, rocked the baby, and fell helplessly in love.
An hour later, they got us situated in a room where we could finally, finally, get some sleep8. We each laid in a hospital bed, with Lucas in a bassinet between us, and passed out. Nurses came and fed and changed him, and we were dead to the world for a bit.
After we woke up, we got some baby training. We learned to swaddle and change diapers and feed him. A social worker working with the agency came and did all the paperwork with us. We signed so many things, taking custody9 of him and agreeing to the placement. The hospital told us we could discharge basically whenever, because the baby was healthy and the papers were all signed. We asked if it was okay to stay for a bit longer, to try and practice parenting with a safety net with more than a handful of hours of sleep under our belt. They generously allowed us to, on the condition that they continue to not need the room.
Texas law says that you need to wait 48 hours after a child is born to voluntarily relinquish your parental rights to that child. The mother had already discharged, and our agency told us when the social worker’s appointment with her to sign those papers was. We decided to time our discharge from the hospital so we were in the hotel when that happened. The thought process was that if she declined to sign the paperwork and decided to parent instead, we didn’t want to have an audience for receiving that news, and didn’t want to be packing up the hospital room after we had no reason to be in it anymore. So Monday afternoon we packed up and left for a hotel.
The hotel was a mistake.
While we were in the hospital, we planned ahead a bit. I ordered a drive-up order from Target with bottles, diapers, wipes, formula, and the other things we’d need for our days-old infant. What I neglected to do was figure out how we were going to clean those bottles, which needed to be cleaned before they could be used. Worse, I neglected to figure out how we were going to sanitize those bottles, which also had to happen before they were used.
Our hotel room, you see, did not have a kitchen. It had a bathroom sink and a microwave.
So we checked into the hotel room, and Lucas started screaming. Newborns take small amounts of food every hour or two. Tiny little tummies. It had been an hour or two since we left the hospital.
We had bottles to feed him with, but no way to get them clean or sanitized.
I made a frantic run to the Walmart five minutes from our hotel and grabbed sponges and dish soap. I must’ve walked the entire store before I found the two (2) kinds of bottle sanitizers they had, tucked away on the bottom shelf. I bought both.
I got back to the hotel, washed the bottles and sanitizer in the bathroom sink, and sanitized the bottles in the microwave. We poured some pre-mixed formula into the bottle, and started feeding Lucas.
Or, we tried to. It was his first time drinking out of those bottles.
He couldn’t get milk out of the nipples.
The hours since he’s eaten are ticking by. He is unhappy. We are unhappy and getting tired.
Ethan, fortunately, is a genius and remembered that we had a bag of samples from Target because we started a baby registry there. And that bag had a couple different sample bottles in it.
I washed and sanitized all the sample bottles, and Ethan poured the formula into the one most similar to what they were using in the hospital. Finally, Lucas was drinking.
On to the next problem: we had one bottle he could drink from, it’s after 10pm, and we need to feed him throughout the night. Every time he gets fed, we need to wash the bottle in the bathroom sink after and sanitize it. Every time we use the sanitizer it needs to be washed first in the bathroom sink.
This wasn’t working.
I got on my phone and looked for an Airbnb with an instant book option. I found one nearby, booked it for the week, and pleaded with the owner to let us in that night. The owner agreed.
We grabbed our bags, loaded the van up, stopped at Walmart to grab a bunch more of the bottles he could drink from, and got into the Airbnb around midnight.
After checking in, Ethan took care of Lucas while I washed all the bottles we just bought. In a sink. A real, glorious, big-enough sink. When they were all washed and dried, I started running them through the microwave in the sanitizer in groups of four. By around 2am, we had enough bottles to get us to tomorrow afternoon without washing any. I passed out.
The next day, we went to Target and set ourselves up for a stay.
The funny thing about adoption is it’s a matter of state law. Every state has its own laws and requirements around it. Fortunately, this thing called the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children exists to make this all work when the people adopting the child don’t live in the same state the child was born in. It’s a whole thing about making sure rights are honored.
But basically, the adoption agency files with a state agency that coordinates with Texas and Washington courts to give us permission to leave the state with the baby. This is supposed to take “around two weeks”, but it’s stressed that it could be longer, it could be shorter, nobody has any insight into it, the state agencies don’t like when you ask, just parent your baby and be patient.
So we weren’t really sure how long we’d be in this Airbnb. So we prepared ourselves to hunker down for a few weeks, and were just renting it a week at a time. But we started setting our systems up: how would we make sure we always had clean bottles? What’s the laundry schedule and rotation look like? What are we eating, and when, and how?
We established our rhythm. I started trying to get him on our health insurance, applied for Washington’s paid leave program, and updated my employer.
Wednesday we went to the follow-up appointment with the pediatrician that saw him in the hospital. They wanted to schedule a two week follow-up. We told them we didn’t know if we’d even be in the state in two weeks. They told us we could do the two week follow-up as soon as one week after birth. We found this perplexing, but scheduled an appointment for Saturday.
A couple hours later, the agency called. Texas had cleared ICPC for us in less than 24 hours. We were just waiting on Washington.
We got another call Thursday afternoon. Washington cleared ICPC. We could go home.
But how? We have an infant who is less than a week old. He has no immune system, he can’t be vaccinated against COVID-19.
We could fly, but it’s a 1½ hour drive to the airport, a 3-4 hour flight, then a 3½ drive home. With an infant who needs fed at least every 2 hours. Also, if there are any delays, we’re stuck. So we need to travel with enough formula and diapers, and something he can safely sleep in.
But we flew to Texas with two checked bags, two carry ons, and two personal items. And that didn’t have any baby stuff in it. And while we could just buy more bags and figure out what to check, how were we physically going to move the bags and him through the airport?
Also, we can call and ask what they’ll let us do (bring the carseat on the plane, bring however many ounces of pre-mixed formula, etc) but if anyone, from the person checking boarding passes at the security line to the flight attendant, says anything different at any point, we’re stuck with whatever they say.
This sounds like a nightmare.
But driving isn’t much better. It’s a 28 hour drive, neither of us is getting much sleep, and a car accident doesn’t sound like a good time right now. Committing to 28 hours of driving seems untenable.
Fortunately, I married a genius, and Ethan realized something: if we drive, we’re driving through two different cities that have direct flights to the airport five minutes from our house.
We could commit to driving 8 hours, then make a decision about flying. And at that point, it was a 2 hour direct flight with no driving on either end. Way more manageable.
And then 8 hours later, we’d get to make the same decision again.
So we stayed in Texas until the pediatrician appointment on Saturday, and after leaving it, packed the Airbnb up and got on the road. We set up our route so that one of us could drive for two hours while the other sat in the back keeping an eye on Lucas (he was in a car seat, but we were anxious). Then we’d stop, get food, feed Lucas, and switch drivers. The other person would drive to the Airbnb we were staying in that night. We only booked Airbnbs that had dishwashers, so once we got there, we’d unload what we needed for the night, feed Lucas, run the day’s bottles through the wash and sanitize functions on the dishwasher, eat dinner, decide whether to fly (when we were in a city that had an airport), and book the next day’s Airbnb.
It took us six days, but we drove all 28 hours home.
Ever since, we’ve been doing the parenting thing. There’s some more in there about terminating dad’s parental rights, arguing with health insurance, our A/C dying, our dishwasher leaking, arguing with our car’s manufacturer, selling a car back to the manufacturer, buying a new car, mice invading our kitchen… But honestly, it’s all not very interesting.
That parenting thing, though, that’s some complicated stuff.
The General Framework
We thought for a long time about what parenting means to us. We started the process of adopting back in July of 2020, after all, so we’ve known this was coming.
And at the end of the day, there’s two things I keep coming back to about parenting.
First, he’s his own, whole person. He’s not property, he’s not mine to mould or shape or whatever. It’s my job to help him be healthy and happy, and give him the tools to learn about himself and make his own choices about who to be.
Second, he can’t make choices yet. He doesn’t have the capacity to choose for himself yet, not because he’ll make choices I think are bad, but because he is developmentally incapable of even understanding the question or that you’re asking it. So my job as his parent is to make some reasonable default choices for him to start from.
Gender and Name
The first way you see this framework in action is with gender10. My fundamental belief about gender is that it is a social construct, not a phsyical property of a person. So, basically, a person’s gender is whatever they say it is. Which is a problem when the person in question doesn’t understand what a gender is11, let alone have the ability to vocalize it.
My default answer to this is that person does not have a gender. If your gender is whatever you say it is, but you don’t even understand the concept of gender or self, you don’t have a gender, because having a gender requires a concept of self or identity.
And this is fine, in a world where we don’t gender everything. Sadly, we are in a world where we do gender everything, and not having a gender is Breaking The System.
This means that not having a gender is signing up for friction in most of your life.
So what are we supposed to do? If we gender him, we’re assigning a gender that he can’t possibly have. If we don’t gender him, we’re making his life harder when he doesn’t have a say in it.
In this case, we chose to not sign him up for the struggle, and to just go with the gender people were going to assume, but to make sure he had the tools to understand and explore gender as he grows.
Likewise, naming him was rough. Names are an important marker of identity, and we believe your name is what you say it is, but he couldn’t tell us what his name was. How were we supposed to pick his name before we knew who he was?
It helped to reframe it, from picking his name to picking what we were going to call him. If he doesn’t like it, he can change it. No big deal.
We talked a lot about going with a gender-neutral name. We really liked Sage. We talked with some of our non-binary friends about names, and someone told us they really liked having a gendered first name and neutral middle name, so they could choose when to fly under the radar but had a name ready for when they didn’t want to be gendered. They appreciated having the choice to take on the friction or not.
So Lucas Sage it was. Until he tells us it’s something different.
Another place we needed this framework was in deciding how much about him to share, where, and with whom.
We believe, if he’s his own person, he gets to choose what about him gets shared and what is private. Just because we’re his parents doesn’t mean his life is ours to publish on the internet for all eternity. He should get to make that decision.
But he can’t make that decision yet. And his extended family, and the people who care about him, are spread all over the world. Not building those familial ties by refusing to share information about him was depriving him of growing up with family and connections, without input from him. Which also doesn’t seem ideal.
My default (“if I don’t tell everyone everything about me all the time I’ll explode”) is fine to apply when it’s my privacy I’m voiding, but it’s probably not appropriate for someone who can’t make an informed choice about it.
The hard opposite end of the spectrum (“nothing about him gets put on the internet until he can make an informed decision”) is also making a choice without his input, and signing him up for some consequences. There are plenty of articles written by people who have tried to do this; it’s only partially successful, and cuts you off from a lot of modern life.
We resolved this problem through some threat-modeling. Why did we care about his information not being on the public internet? What negative things were we trying to control? The appropriate, proportionate measures to take could be informed by understanding our goals.
What it came down to is that we didn’t want him to feel like his life was already on the internet. We didn’t want him to grow up knowing friends could look up embarrassing things he did as an infant or toddler on the internet, or feeling like his life was fodder for clout.
It would be nice if Meta and Google didn’t know a bunch about him, couldn’t train deep learning models against his likeness, but we concluded that was going to happen whether we wanted it to or not. And while we could probably bully family and friends into not putting pictures of him on Facebook, it would be hard. And how long are we going to do that? If he goes to a family wedding with us, are we going to refuse to have his picture taken? Or ask the newly-married couple not to share any pictures of their wedding that include him?
That seems untenable.
So we’re doing our best to make some default choices as to how much of his privacy has been given up, trying to make sure he’s not more exposed than his peers, but also trying to make sure he doesn’t grow up isolated and unknown to his family and friends.12
We’ve been parents for six months, and we’re exhausted, but it’s everything we hoped it would be. It was hard getting here, and absolutely worth it.
Lucas is amazing, and we can’t wait to find out who he is, as he finds out himself.
We have a lot of data on development and milestones, but the short version is: he seems healthy, and he seems happy. And we’re going to do what we can to keep it that way.
I know you’re all just here for the photos, so I’ll end this super-long post with just a few of our favorites.
- 1 This is a bit of an underwhelming way to express “we booked the next available flight that we thought we could make after a 3½ hour drive to SeaTac, reserved a car and hotel room, frantically packed everything we’d need to stay an indeterminate amount of time in Texas with a newborn in like an hour, told my job I wouldn’t be in on Monday and I’d follow up when I knew more, asked our friends to take care of our house and dog for us, drove to SeaTac, begged and pleaded with a baggage claim agent to take our bags even though we were like 3 minutes past the cut-off after waiting in line, sprinted through a concourse, and slid through the doors as they were closing, narrowly avoiding missing the last flight from SeaTac that night and needing to wait like 6-8 hours while a baby was actively being born”, but that’s a very long sentence to embed in the middle of this story. ↩⨂
- 2 We’ll come back to gender later, I promise. ↩⨂
- 3 Sleep tracker: awake for roughly 18 hours at this point. ↩⨂
- 4 Technically, “laying in the back of a rented minivan, debating whether I could nap for ten minutes while I waited for guidance.” ↩⨂
- 5 Because the person giving birth wanted a closed adoption, we were not given her last name. She did not want to name the baby, so his name was “Baby Boy”. So the hospital referred to him as “Baby Boy (the first letter of her last name)” on everything. Because y’all have no need to know her last initial, I have substituted X. ↩⨂
- 6 Sleep tracker: awake for roughly 20 hours at this point. ↩⨂
- 7 It is a hard thing to give birth, and a hard thing to choose adoption for the child you just gave birth to. We don’t know any of this person’s circumstances, because she did not want us to know. But we respect her decisions. We require those who wish to be social with us to respect her and her decisions. And Lucas, if you’re reading this years from now, remember what your dad and I told you about this. ↩⨂
- 8 Sleep tracker: awake for roughly 24 hours at this point. ↩⨂
- 9 Custody is wild in adoption. I learned there are a bunch of different phrases with a bunch of different legal meanings. A helpful framework I found is to look at it in terms of rights and responsibilities. What we did is technically take “placement” of him, which gives us the right and responsibility to care for him, make medical decisions, and do the day-to-day parenting stuff. It also meant taking legal and financial liability for him, I believe. It did not, however, confer on us any permanent rights. The birth parents still had their rights and could assert them at any point. The agency, I believe, had taken “custody”, which gave them the right to some information and to do legal maneuvering? Something like that. We answered to the agency, the agency answered to mom. We were, essentially, very empowered babysitters. ↩⨂
- 10 Told you we’d get to gender. ↩⨂
- 11 My understanding is he is only now starting to understand that he is a separate entity from me or Ethan. Which is a really neat way to look at the world! ↩⨂
- 12 If you’re a friend—we’ve met, or you think I would know your name—or family member and don’t know how to get pictures of and updates about Lucas, please reach out, and we’ll get you set up. ↩⨂