Dear Houston: A Thank You Letter To The Place That Made My Family

Moving to Houston was a flying leap of faith to a city where we could finally become parents.

My husband and I moved to Houston from Dublin, Ireland, almost three years ago, specifically to adopt a baby. Not a baby we knew of yet; we hadn't even started the paperwork with an adoption agency. But a baby we hoped for. We called it a sabbatical, now I call it a flying leap of faith. 

Shortly after we were married in Maine in 2008, we decided to move to Dublin, where my husband was raised. We lived there and built a life for ourselves for almost eight years before we decided to take that flying leap, spurred on by infertility testing that left us with few options: Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) or adoption. IVF didn't sit right with either of us at the time, and we'd always wanted to adopt. That decision seemed fairly easy, until we realized we were living in the wrong country for that plan. 

What many people don't know is that adoption is functionally impossible in Ireland. Domestic adoption in Ireland is all but nonexistent – even through foster care (24 children were adopted from foster care in 2015, and there were 7 domestic straight adoptions in the same year). Because of the Irish constitution, parental rights are rarely terminated in Ireland. Instead, children can spend their entire lives in foster care if their parents aren’t in a position to parent them.

Giving your child up for adoption is far from glorified in the United States, but I think it’s more accepted and more understood. In Ireland, it’s more shameful to give up your child than to have your parents raise it and have it end up in a group home as a teenager because he or she is too difficult for an elderly person to take care of. The pendulum has truly swung against domestic adoption in Ireland, to the point where it’s essentially nonexistent. Even international adoption in Ireland is a process that's prohibitively difficult and expensive, and involves a 3+ year extreme vetting by the Irish government before you can even start. 

All that to say, Irish adoption wasn't going to be on the cards for us (or many people, for that matter). Instead, since we both had American passports, we made plans to leave our life in Dublin temporarily and head to Houston. We knew an adoption agency there and had friends who had worked with them before; they assured us  there were babies who needed homes.

The next step, of course, was to find and make a home to welcome a baby into! We packed up our apartment in Dublin and moved everything into storage. We arrived in Houston in August 2015 with two suitcases and knew a total of 3 people, all of whom lived north of the city. In an effort to find a neighborhood that shared features with our Dublin home, we chose a walkable, tree-lined neighborhood much closer to the city. We found an apartment and moved our two suitcases into it. My husband miraculously found a job within a week at a school as the guidance counselor, and I continued freelance writing while trying to make our little apartment a home. 

We started our adoption paperwork and attended the requisite classes. We explored the neighborhood and fell in love with our new little home. We found a church in walking distance from our apartment and plonked ourselves in one of the front rows. Before long, we recognized people and began to settle in, welcomed by a sweet version of southern hospitality neither of us had known before. 

Five weeks after we arrived in Houston, we got *the* call from our adoption agency. It wasn't our first call, but the previous few calls had been to ask if we would consider taking slightly older children. While we weren't fussy about gender or race or ethnicity, we were determined to hang onto one remaining part of the original dream we had of having children: we wanted an infant. Lo and behold, the third phone call was the just that: our miracle Maya. She was three days old when they called, and six hours later we met our daughter for the first time. She was and is utterly perfect. She fits seamlessly into our world, astounding us with her utter joy for the world at every turn.

Dear Houston: A Thank You Letter to a Place That Made My Family
Instagram via Emily Westbrooks

With barely a bed and a couch in our apartment, we scrambled to find baby gear, borrowing from friends of friends, and gratefully receiving gifts from astonished loved ones around the country. It was weeks before we could stop pinching ourselves that we were really parents, that our flying leap had really worked. 

When our daughter was a few months old, we received another call from our agency, asking if we would consider adopting a toddler as well. Despite still being shell-shocked from our daughter's arrival, we said yes. While that child never materialized and was placed with another family through child protective services, it reminded us that if we didn't pursue another adoption, our daughter might never have a sibling. 

Our plan was always to adopt and return to Ireland to settle down, but our plan of returning to Dublin after one year and one adoption was quickly extended. One year turned into two and finally three. We pursued adoption through foster care with our agency and rescue-fostered several little ones who later went on to long-term foster homes and, much later, adoptions.

Finally, we decided to change agencies to one that only dealt with private domestic infant adoption. It was a difficult choice, but ultimately I knew that our son was waiting for us. We couldn't leave until we had him. Just two months after we were active with our new agency, we received a call that we had been chosen as the family for a baby boy who would be born the next month. By that point, we'd been through four failed infant adoptions with our previous agency, so we knew that until he was in our arms, we couldn't take in a full breath. 

But in August of 2017, we waited and waited on what seemed like the longest day ever as our second birth mom had a scheduled c-section and we got the news that our miracle Noah had been born. We met him the next day, and he has been the perfect addition to our family of four. 

Dear Houston: A Thank You Letter to a Place That Made My Family
Instagram via Emily Westbrooks

Last week, we left Houston, the place where we became a family and then grew our family, to return to Dublin, the place we left as a very hopeful couple. I always knew that leaving the place where we brought our kids home would be impossibly difficult, but it was always far enough in the future that I could push the surge of emotion away. Last week it became reality and we left Houston for the foreseeable future. We left the place where we brought our kids through the door for the first time, said goodbye to the doctors who reassured us in the very early stages of parenting when I know I looked like a deer in the headlights trying to adjust, and hugged our adoption caseworkers one more time. 

There's an episode of Call the Midwife, I think the Christmas special from last year, in which Dr. Turner and his family moved out of the only home they've ever known. He says to his son as they're leaving, "The memories don't live in the house." I've repeated that line over and over, attempting to sear into my memory the exact smell of the parking lot where I was sitting in my car when I saw the first picture of my daughter. I repeated it as I made my way, one more time, through the labyrinthine parking lot at the hospital where my son was born. I repeated it when I said a very tearful goodbye to my church mom's group who literally held me up during each of our failed adoptions before our son finally came. I repeated it as we headed for the airport at 4 a.m. with two pajama-clad babies in their car seats behind me. The memories don't live in the place, but that place surely helped make those memories. And what incredible memories they were. 

While the overall goodbye process was emotionally exhausting, it was therapeutic. I managed to see those special Houston people and places one more time before we put our suitcases in the car and made our way east to Dublin. While it was sort of a goodbye tour, it was even more of a gratitude tour. We couldn't be more grateful for an adopted city to call home while we fought to grow our family, and Houston — people, places, jobs, opportunities, adoption agencies, hospitals, even coffee shops — treated us so well. 

The memories aren't in the place, but we will take with us everlasting memories of a place that was utterly life-changing for us. I'll never forget the first time we drove our daughter down the 10-lane highway to our house, and how terrified my husband was to drive faster than 65 miles per hour as trucks and SUVS zoomed by us. I'll never forget the first time we walked into our favorite coffee shop, where we'd later celebrate two adoption day lunches with our friends and families. I'll never forget the beeping sound of the two NICUs where we laid eyes on our two children for the first time. And I'll never forget the blue door and the metal threshold and the polished concrete floor we brought them home to for the first time, where they crawled and cooed and giggled first. Our Houston home.

Finally, I'll never forget the feeling of watching Houston grow tiny beneath us as the plane ascended into the air, one child strapped to my chest, his chubby hands bopping my sides, and a toddler buckled in next to me, exclaiming, "Let's do it, team!" as we took off. Moving to Houston was a flying leap of faith that it could be the place where we could finally become parents; taking off as a family of four felt victorious and redemptive.

We will return one day, with both our kids in tow, perhaps looking for answers or information on their backgrounds, or perhaps just to walk down memory lane with them. We'll show them the church where they were dedicated and where our friends stood in as family behind us and blessed our little family. We'll sit in the parking lot where we found out Maya was coming, and we'll eat at the Thai restaurant we were sitting when we got the call that Noah had arrived. We'll take the elevator up to the NICUs where they each were born, and we'll show them the tiny apartment where we spent late nights feeding and early mornings reading stories. As our daughter still calls it, we'll take a reunion tour of our "Houston home."

Thank you, Houston, for giving us a home to become a family, and for scooping us up and taking care of us along the way — through ups and downs, extreme grief, and finally, to a family of four. Until we meet again one day, thank you.