'Our Path to Adoption': Host Kristin Kalning's Adoption Story

 
 
Today’s guests, host Kristin and her husband Steve

Today’s guests, host Kristin and her husband Steve

EPISODE SUMMARY:

In this episode, Host Kristin Kalning talks about what led her and her husband Steve to choose adoption. Their path was infertility, which means that you’re not able to get pregnant after one year of trying. Women who can get pregnant but cannot stay pregnant may also be considered infertile. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.1 million women in the U.S. have difficulty getting or staying pregnant. 

 
 
 
 

Show Notes: The agency we used to adopt Scott was called Children’s Home Society and Family Services. They have since merged, with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. They’re now called CHLSS, and they’re still one of the most ethical adoption agencies in the U.S.

The second agency we used was WACAP, or World Association of Children and Parents. They’re located in Renton, Wa., which was closer to our house than Minnesota. I was so impressed by our experience with them that I joined the board of directors in 2016. They’re also an incredible agency with a tireless, dedicated staff.

 

Read Show Transcript:

Kristin Kalning The day I realized I was ready to adopt I was on a beach in Roatan, Honduras. It was a beautiful beach, and deserted, which was exactly what I needed.

The rest of the group, including my husband, Steve, was at the monkey sanctuary nearby. That was part of the excursion: Zipline through the jungle, check out the monkeys afterward. I like monkeys, but at the moment, the empty beach appealed to me more. So I parted from the group, rolled a beach towel out on a lounge chair, and queued up my iPod with all of my downloaded “This American Life” episodes.

Let me back up for a second. I was in Honduras as part of a cruise around the Caribbean. The cruise was a perk for all of the employees at Steve’s company. No work was expected, and employees brought their spouses and families. It was a welcome, sunny break from Seattle’s winter weather.

Still, I’d been dreading it. For one thing, I like to go places and hang out for a while. The whole cruise model of sailing around and disembarking for a day just wasn’t my idea of travel. But it was a free trip, and a new experience. We got to see glimpses of Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel, Mexico.

There was another reason why I was reluctant to go on the cruise. I was dreading being around our friends and their kids. Because despite all our efforts, Steve and I still didn’t have kids of our own. It was eating me up. It was putting a serious strain on our marriage.

I’m Kristin Kalning, and this is Real Life Adoption, a podcast of stories from people whose lives have been touched by adoption. For this first episode, I’m going talk about what led Steve and I to choose adoption. Our path was infertility, which means that you’re not able to get pregnant after one year of trying. Women who can get pregnant but cannot stay pregnant may also be considered infertile. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.1 million women in the U.S. have difficulty getting or staying pregnant. 

Well before that trip to the Caribbean, and that beach in Roatan, Steve and I were newly married, and living in San Francisco. We weren’t in a huge hurry to have kids. At that point, we were enjoying being childless and traveling and eating out and throwing parties at our tiny apartment overlooking Ocean Beach.

But after awhile, it felt like we’d sort of … done everything. After a year of marriage, we started talking about taking the next step, and the next adventure: becoming parents. I was 34, and Steve was 33.

I went to my OB-GYN, who said: “You are sickeningly healthy. I’ll see you when you get pregnant.” I went off birth control, and figured it was just a matter of time.

But month after month, my body refused to cooperate. My OB-GYN was puzzled, but suggested we give it a full year before looking into fertility treatments. We started being a bit more strategic with our efforts. I read books and got lost on websites and forums discussing fertility. I took my temperature every day, and charted the results.  

In the summer of 2005, Steve’s company shut down its Bay Area office and we decided not to follow his job to Orange County. He landed his dream job in Bellevue, Washington, a little while later, and so we bought a house and moved to the Pacific Northwest. We still weren’t pregnant, but we chalked that up to stress. I tried acupuncture. Nothing. We took a vacation. Still nothing. By this time, I was 35, and starting to panic.

We’d heard the stories of other friends and acquaintances who’d had trouble conceiving. One woman I knew cashed out her 401K to fund round after round of in-vitro fertilization, or IVF. A friend of ours, who’d gotten lucky with just one round of fertility drugs, suggested that we decide ahead of time how far we were willing to go. Steve and I talked about it, and decided to draw the line at IVF.

I know many, many families who’ve chosen IVF with great success. I am the last person to judge how people choose to create a family. But IVF just wasn’t for us. Steve and I both decided at the outset that it was too expensive, and didn’t have a high enough rate of success to feel comfortable. We also weren’t tied to the idea that our children had to be biological. Adoption was something we’d always talked about. We just wanted to see if we could have a biological child first.

After a year of trying for a biological child, I typed “fertility treatments” into Google. I got pages and pages of results. We chose a facility near our house. The nurse practitioner was kind, even-keeled, and had an impressive track record. 

She recommended a full workup for both of us. For Steve that meant a sperm test, which came back A-OK. For me it meant an HSG test, where a doctor shoots iodine dye into the uterus to see if the fallopian tubes are blocked. I had an ultrasound to check for ovarian cysts. And for good measure, I was also tested for PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. All of those tests came back negative. My blood test revealed the real problem: I had anovulation, which meant I wasn’t ovulating regularly. Which meant, I was the problem.

If it’s been awhile since fifth grade health class, let’s recap: Every month, fertile women develop follicles in their ovaries. These follicles are very tiny sacs filled with fluid. In the first couple of weeks of a woman’s menstrual cycle, hormones trigger a few of these follicles to grow, and the egg inside the follicles to mature. Eventually, one follicle becomes dominant, and that’s the one that will release a mature egg during ovulation.  

Typically, ovulation lands right in the middle of a woman’s cycle, but there’s lots of variation there. Her most fertile window is the day of ovulation, and the five days preceding it. After that, the body enters what’s called a luteal phase, which lasts about two weeks. In that phase, the ovaries make the hormone progesterone, which tells the lining of the uterus to thicken up and prepare for pregnancy. If no pregnancy occurs, the lining sheds during menstruation. I wasn’t even getting to the ovulation phase. I was an ovulation failure.

This news was both devastating and infuriating. Up to that point, I had always been able to bring my body to heel. At 15, I developed anorexia, and forced my body to stay under 90 pounds with a 500-calorie-per-day diet. In the ensuing years, my eating disorder waxed and waned, eventually morphing into exercise bulimia. The voice in my head commanded that I exercise at least an hour a day, and sometimes, twice a day. I taught Spin classes to sneak in an extra workout. I trained for running races to hide my obsession. Everyone thought I was just a disciplined athlete, but in truth, I was grappling with an eating disorder that would rule my life for 27 years. But that’s another story. 

Up to this point, our nurse had been coding our visits and treatments as “ovarian dysfunction,” and our insurance was paying. So I went on Clomid, an ovulation-inducing drug. It was relatively inexpensive and easy to take. But it did a serious number on me. I had headaches, nausea, and big-time mood swings.

Steve joked that there should be a safe house for Clomid husbands.

At one point during this process, I suggested to Steve that he should just leave me, and start over again with a younger woman who could give him children.  

Interview with Steve about my suggestion that he leave me for a younger woman.

Kristin Kalning Do you remember when I said that to you?

Steve Kalning Yeah I do, I think I laughed, which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t the best response to give at that moment.

Kristin Kalning Yeah, I was a little fragile.

Steve Kalning Yeah, but I think to me it was funny in some ways because I was like, well, is that what you feel you bring to the table? Like, you can have biological kids, and if you can’t, get out? You know, move on, get out of here! So, yeah, I guess maybe it is a little funny in hindsight.

Kristin Kalning Yeah, in hindsight, for sure.

Steve Kalning Yes. I think -- and maybe I was there, thought-wise before you were -- but it felt like at that time we started talking a bit about, you know, there’s multiple ways to have a kid, not a kid, but to have a family

Kristin Kalning Right.

Steve Kalning You know, biological wasn’t the only way we could go- we started talking about adoption, foster care.

Steve Kalning Various avenues like that, and I think the other thing we talked about back then was, “What if the problem was me?” Right? What if, after our doctor visits and tests it was like well, “Your guys just aren’t swimming fast enough?” or whatever it was, it’s not always…

Kristin Kalning But it wasn’t.

Steve Kalning No, but again, it’s not always the woman who’s, you know, the problem, or the issue, right? So it’s just good to have those talks, I think.

Kristin Kalning Yeah.  

Kristin Kalning It did feel important for me to have confirmation that Steve was going to stick with me during this demoralizing and discouraging process. But the suggestions from the sidelines were enough to drive me crazy. Everyone had an opinion about why I wasn’t getting pregnant. My mother told me to stop eating sushi. One of my friends told me that I should quit my job and spend all my time focusing on getting pregnant. That one really bugged me. My job, as an editor and writer for Msnbc.com, was one of the things in my life that felt good. One of the only places where I felt successful. I did not quit my job.

I did spend a lot of time blaming myself. Did my decades of anorexia and bulimia cost me my fertility? And if so, could I undo the damage? Our nurse – and the fertility specialist that followed – weren’t particularly interested in determining the reason for my anovulation. They wanted me to focus on the big picture: Getting pregnant.  

So every month I did the same thing. Kick off the process with an ultrasound to check for cysts. Take Clomid for 5 days. Go in for more ultrasounds and blood tests to monitor follicle growth and hormone levels. And then a “trigger shot” of HCG, or human chorionic gonadatropin. The purpose of the trigger shot was to sync up optimal follicle growth and ovulation for a better chance of fertilization, and pregnancy. And then, later in the cycle, I’d get a progesterone shot to see if I had ovulated. Every month, I still wasn’t pregnant.

As a Hail Mary, I started taking Metformin, a diabetes drug. Metformin had an off-label use to help spur ovulation, but it didn’t work for me.

Our nurse recommended that we try one last cycle with IUI, or intrauterine insemination, otherwise known as the “turkey baster” method. I spent the morning of July 4, 2006 at the fertility clinic. I was on my back with pillows under my hips, and a nurse shot Steve’s washed sperm into me. It was six days before my 36th birthday.

“You have about six follicles in there,” said the nurse with the turkey baster. “Have you thought about the fact that you might need to do selective reduction?” What she was saying is that it looked so likely that I’d get pregnant, with all of those follicles and potential eggs, that I might need to consider if I wanted to carry multiple babies to term. What she was saying is that I was going to get pregnant this time, with at least one baby.

I was so sure that the IUI was going to work that I let myself daydream about how I’d tell Steve I was pregnant. Would I leave out the positive pregnancy test on the counter? Would I buy a big teddy bear and tie a note around its neck? Or would I go big, and announce it on the Jumbotron at Safeco Field during a Mariner’s Game? The IUI didn’t work. I got my period while rollerblading down the Sammamish River trail on a sunny summer afternoon. I locked myself in the public bathroom, and cried.

At this point, our nurse told us she’d done all she could do. It was time to go see a fertility doctor. Our insurance company had figured out what we were up to, and had stopped paying. We were on the hook for thousands of dollars’ worth of treatment.

Kristin Kalning We go to Seattle Reproductive Medicine, and they had the big fancy office, and … how do you remember that experience?

Steve Kalning I remember it being a little clinical, it was pretty no-nonsense. I remember the waiting room being very busy. 

Kristin Kalning Yeah.  

Steve Kalning There seemed to be a lot of people in there, sort of anxiously looking on their phone, reading through the magazines and sort of, you know, just a little bit nervous, I guess.

Kristin Kalning Yeah.

Steve Kalning Anxious.

Kristin Kalning Yeah, anxious energy.

Steve Kalning Yeah.

Kristin Kalning I remember the doctor was nice. She was very brisk, you know.  

Steve Kalning She was pretty to the point, she didn’t seem to care what, I mean, she cared what we went through before, but it didn’t matter.

Kristin Kalning Right.

Steve Kalning It was more just like, “That’s great. Here’s what you should do next.”

Steve Kalning These are your options and this is what you should do.

Kristin Kalning She told us that our next step should be IVF, no other options were given. That was our best option, that was what she … wholeheartedly recommended for us.

Steve Kalning Yeah and then, I think we kind of looked at each other and we were sort of like, “Is that the end of the game, like, is this it?” Is this …  the end of the road? We couldn’t really get a guarantee from her that it would be successful. And the cost was not insignificant.

Kristin Kalning True.

Steve Kalning And I think I remember, like, during the meeting, we just kind of turned to each other and we’re both going like, “I don’t know if we really wanna do this.” It didn’t feel right. And I remember her being kind of confused and a little disappointed, almost like, “Well, why are here?” Right?

Kristin Kalning Yeah. ‘I can get you pregnant if you just do this.’ 

Steve Kalning Yeah. Just do it enough and –

 Kristin  Kalning It’ll take. 

Steve Kalning Yeah. It’ll finally work, maybe.

Steve Kalning And I think that’s when I started thinking like, well maybe this isn’t the right route for us. Maybe adoption is what we should really start looking into. 

Kristin Kalning Yeah, I definitely was, had been feeling up to that point, that, um, maybe there was a reason I wasn’t getting pregnant. Maybe my body was throwing up red flags and I was just choosing to ignore them, but I wasn’t quite where you were yet. I do remember the doctor said, “There’s one thing that you could do, I guess.” And it was Follistem, which is a-

Steve Kalning Oh yes, the Follistem-

Kristin Kalning Yes, the follicle stimulating hormone shots. And she sent us away with this prescription and told us to think about our diminishing options because of my age. But I went home and I ordered the Follistem, which was also not inexpensive, and it came, and I put it in the refrigerator, kind of in the like little side door thing next to the mustard and the capers and I told you it was there, and do you remember what you said?

Steve Kalning Yeah, I think I took a look at it and sort of your, I don’t know, almost hesitation, of like “This is where we’re at now, we’re gonna start giving each other, well not giving each other, but giving you shots to see if we can, you know, get this going,” and I think I was like, we need to take a break.

Kristin Kalning We took a break from fertility treatments – and each other. We spent a lot of time that winter on opposite ends of the house. Steve had moved on, and was talking more about adoption. I was still down that rabbit hole of infertility treatments, asking myself what if? And why me?

Then, two things happened. My boss sent me to a writer’s workshop at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. During a layover at DFW airport, I spent two hours on the phone, arguing with my insurance company over payment. “Your coverage does not extend to fertility treatments,” the customer service person said over and over. I went to the ladies’ room and had a good, long cry.  

The workshop, though, was a revelation. The sunshine and the caliber of talent in that room was intoxicating. I felt like I was at a summer camp for reporters. I came back feeling motivated and energized.

The second thing was the cruise. Which brings us back to that beach in Roatan, and the monkey sanctuary, and “This American Life.” The episode I chose to listen to is called “Unconditional Love.” The second segment, called “Love is a Battlefield,” told the story of Rick and Heidi Solomon, who adopted a seven-year-old boy from Romania. After an initial honeymoon phase, this boy, Daniel, started to act out. Not typical tantrums, but hours of rage. He put thousands of holes in the walls of his room. He gave Heidi a black eye. She called the police several times a month. She took him to countless psychiatrists. One of those psychiatrists told Heidi that her son would never love her.   

 There was this line in that episode that I can never forget. It changed everything for me. The narrator, Alix Spiegel, said that Heidi believed strongly that people should do what they’re capable of. And throughout the many trials with Daniel, including a point where Rick considered moving out, Heidi’s love for Daniel never wavered.

I listened to this episode about this extraordinary family and I cried until I felt wrung dry. I wasn’t sad though. I was relieved. I could leave this miserable, punishing journey of infertility behind, because there was another way. People should do what they are capable of. And we were capable of loving a child that wasn’t biologically ours. For the first time in a long time, I felt hopeful.

Back on the boat, I changed into my running clothes and went for a four-mile run. It took 16 laps around the tiny track to equal a mile, but I didn’t mind the monotony. While I ran in the stifling heat, the thoughts flowed in and out of my head like gentle waves. Where would we adopt from? We’d figure it out. What if it took another year or more? Then it would take another year or more. A year or more was going to pass anyway, and this path seemed to have much more certainty. I ran and ran until I was drenched with sweat. It felt like a baptism. It felt like starting again.

Steve Kalning Yeah, so you came back from your run, and I remember you just kind of burst in through the door, slightly -- manic’s probably not the word -- but with a very excited look on your face and you just said, “F@#$ this. Let’s adopt.”

Kristin Kalning (Laughter.) That sounds like me. What was your reaction to that?

Steve Kalning Silence! It was kind of like, you know, internally I think it was more like, “Well OK, it’s about time.” But, I think I was happy excited, relieved.

Kristin Kalning I think we celebrated. I remember, when we went to dinner that night, we bought a bottle of champagne and celebrated, ‘cause it felt like,

Steve Kalning We got over this hill, right,

Kristin Kalning Yeah, totally.

Steve Kalning We got over this hill we’d been climbing forever it felt like, with no results, and it felt like, this is a path, right, that we can now start going on, right?

 Kristin Kalning Yeah.

Kristin Kalning When we got back to Seattle, we started to research adoption agencies – and share our decision with our friends and family. Some people didn’t understand why we wouldn’t try every avenue possible to get pregnant, but we were over that. We also had little patience for the many people who told us, “Oh, once you adopt you’ll totally get pregnant.”

Kristin Kalning So I never, ever think about what it would have been like to have biological kids. Do you?

Steve Kalning No, it never really crosses your mind, and you hear adoptive parents talk about that … you know, once you adopt, your kids are your kids,

Steve Kalning And it doesn’t matter what they look like, where they’re from, or any of that.

Kristin Kalning Yeah.  

Steve Kalning And before you adopt, I don’t think you believe them, because you’re like well --

Kristin Kalning They don’t look like you!

Steve Kalning Yeah, they don’t look like you! And, it never crossed my mind and the funny thing that starts happening is that you start being told that you guys look alike.

Kristin Kalning (Laughter) That’s right.

Steve Kalning Like, before you know it, they’re like, “He has your expressions!” or “He looks like you.” And it’s like, that’s impossible, or at least I think it is.

Kristin Kalning (Laughter) Yeah …  and now people don’t believe us when we say that, that we’re like, I couldn’t care less that I don’t have biological children, and more than that, like, if we did have biological children, we wouldn’t have our kids.

Steve Kalning Yeah, that’s probably the best way to look at it.

Kristin Kalning Yeah. I mean, once that door was closed for me, it was closed.

Kristin Kalning There were lots of decisions ahead. The first one: Would we adopt domestically, or internationally? We quickly decided that we wanted to adopt internationally. At the time, it was the quicker route, although that’s changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Private adoptions could often fall through, and we didn’t feel like we could handle the emotional roller coaster of adopting through the foster care system. At that point, we had been trying to become parents for three years. We wanted a path that would likely lead to a child.

First, we looked at China, which at the time was well-known for its orphanages full of female babies. Back then, China had a rule that a couple had to have been married five years if either partner had ever been divorced. I had a divorce in my past, and Steve and I had only been married for four years. So we moved on to South Korea – another country with a long history of adoption to the U.S. In that case, the wait time was upwards of three years – too long for us. I started researching Ethiopia, a country I had long been curious about.

Many people only know about Ethiopia because of the devastating 1984 famine, and the Live Aid fundraising concert. But I had learned a bit about Ethiopia in an anthropology class. I’d read about Lucy, the 3.2-million year old human ancestor, whose skeleton was found in Ethiopia. I’d learned from my father, a history buff, that Ethiopia was one of two countries in Africa that had never been colonized. (OK, it was briefly occupied by Italy in 1936, but that’s still pretty impressive.)  Ethiopia has its own calendar, and its own way of telling time. They do things their own way. I liked that.

We chose an agency, Children’s Home Society and Family Services, or CHSFS, in St. Paul, Minnesota. We chose them because of their reputation for integrity and transparency. They also, at the time, had one of the most established Ethiopia programs in the U.S. Steve and I really wanted a steady, experienced hand on the rudder during this journey. So we filled out the application packet during a long weekend, and on July 6, 2007, a year after the turkey-baster fertility treatment, we were officially accepted into the Ethiopia program.

OK, so a few definitions here for the adoption newbies: A dossier is a collection of documents required by both the U.S. and the country where you hope to adopt from. The dossier requirements will vary by country, but typically, it includes a home study, medical reports about the prospective parents, immigration pre-approval, financial and employment information, reference letters, police reports, on and on. It took us seven months to assemble all of the paperwork for our dossier.

Most adoption agencies have relationships with NGOs, orphanages, and state officials in the countries where they work. As children are relinquished, in-country staff pull together what they know about the children – their history, health, disposition, and so on. And based on that information, the agency will match the child with one of their waiting families. When a child’s information is shared with a family, that’s called a referral.

After submitting our dossier, we waited a year for our referral. I don’t really remember much from that period except that it was weird. We were two people in our mid-30s who knew next to nothing about parenting. CHSFS required us to do a series of educational webinars -- on Ethiopian culture and traditions, on parenting, and so forth. But it still felt very abstract.  We’d ask our friends with kids how we could prepare, and they told us to sleep late and go to lots of movies. We chose a pediatrician, and asked her the same thing, and she told us just to trust our gut.

While we waited, we made contact with the Center for Adoption Medicine at the University of Washington. The center has three pediatricians, and all provide general pediatric care for fostered and adopted kids. They also provide pre-adoption consultations on referrals. The physicians there, and at other adoption clinics around the country, have specialized training and expertise in adoption medicine. They are familiar with the nuances of foreign systems. They know what kind of growth patterns to expect from a child who’s been at an orphanage in China versus Ethiopia. They can look at a photo of a child and determine whether they have fetal alcohol syndrome. In other words, the doctors at the Center are an invaluable resource for parents who have just a few days to say yes or no to a child that lives thousands of miles away.   

Dr. Julia Bledsoe, one of the three physicians, had helped us with our medical conditions checklist. The checklist has parents decide which medical conditions they are willing to look at in a referral. It is one of the documents that goes into a family’s dossier.  

Filling out the checklist is an awful experience. But it does help the adoption agency narrow down which children to show you. It also forces parents to get real about what they can handle. Some of the questions were easy: Yes, we’d look at referrals of children with low birth weight. Yes, we were fine with cleft lip and palate. But no, we didn’t feel equipped to parent a child with blindness, or HIV. I felt beyond horrible doing this checklist, but Dr. Bledsoe reminded us there were people who stepped up to adopt the children with Down’s Syndrome, or cerebral palsy. In fact, there were people who only adopted children with those conditions. Steve and I needed to be honest about what we thought we could handle, and for our first adoption, we requested a healthy child.   

By the time January 2009 rolled around, we knew from Rachel, our adoption coordinator, that we were at the front of the line. I still wasn’t quite ready to fix up the guest bedroom into a nursery though. Steve and I would stand in the front of the room, and talk about where we’d put the crib, and what color we’d paint the walls. But after years of infertility, I didn’t want to jinx anything. I wanted to wait until we had a referral, an actual child out there that was ours.

 At the end of February 2009, I was in the Bay Area for my then sister-in-law’s baby shower. The day before the shower, she went into labor, a full six weeks early. The doctors tried everything to stop the labor, but it was no use. Little Malcolm Robert was on his way. He was born at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California, at 10:12 p.m. on March 1. I got to see him as he was wheeled into the NICU. I got to see my brother become a father for the first time.

I was able to squeeze in one last visit to the NICU before my flight the next morning, and I stayed a bit too long. My parents were driving me to the airport, and I was crammed in the back seat with my suitcase.

We were crawling down Howe Street toward the 580 freeway when my cell phone rang.  It was a number I didn’t recognize. I was a reporter back then, and I was used to getting phone calls from PR people, so I picked up. It was Rachel, our adoption coordinator. She asked if now was a good time to talk. I knew instantly that this was “the call.” She told me that Steve and I had been matched to a 9-month-old baby boy. She told me he was absolutely adorable.

Audio with Mom

 Kristin Kalning So I’m gonna give my mom a call here, and see what she remembers from that day.

Marilyn Mellone (Kristin’s mom) (Ringing) Hello?

 Kristin Kalning Hey Mom!

 Marilyn Mellone (Kristin’s mom) Hey Kick!* What’s going on?

 Kristin Kalning Oh nothing, just doing some podcast stuff and I thought I’d give you a call and ask you some questions.

Marilyn Mellone (Kristin’s mom) OK.

Kristin Kalning OK. So I wanted to find out from you what you remember about that day in the car after Malcolm was born, and, you know, I’m in the back seat, and I get a phone call and it’s our adoption coordinator, and of course, you couldn’t hear that side of the conversation because you weren’t on the phone with me, but what I remember is, it’s like as soon as I took the call it’s like you almost knew. What do you remember about that?

Marilyn Mellone (Kristin’s mom) Well, my memory is very vivid of that day, I think I’ll always remember it. We were in the car trying to get to the airport on time, because you had wanted to visit your little nephew before you got on the plane, and we were running a little late, and so it was a little tense, and the phone rang, and you looked at the number and you said, “I don’t recognize this, but I’m gonna take it anyway.”

Kristin Kalning Yeah.

Marilyn Mellone (Kristin’s mom) So you took the call and I didn’t hear you say anything and … I waited and I kind of turned around and looked at you and you had this look on your face and, like, tears in your eyes, and I just knew that it was the call you had been waiting for. And, I just remember that. I’ll always remember that day.

Kristin Kalning Yeah.

Marilyn Mellone (Kristin’s mom) So, you know it was kind of an amazing day for me because my grandson had just been born less than, you know, twenty four hours before, and I knew that you had just gotten the call that you had been waiting for, and I had a suspicion that I was gonna be a double grandma in less than 24 hours.

Kristin Kalning And you were!

Marilyn Mellone (Kristin’s mom) Yep, I was.

Marilyn Mellone (Kristin’s mom) And we just, Dad and I felt so fortunate that we were both there when you got that news, and, you know, I just know that I’ll never forget it and I know he won’t either.

Kristin Kalning Yeah. Kind of like you got to be there for two births, in a way.

Marilyn Mellone (Kristin’s mom) Right, and you’d been waiting for a long time for that call, you know, it hadn’t come, and it hadn’t come, and then, for it to come then, was just …. it will always be a memory for me.

Kristin Kalning Yeah, it felt a little bit like a miracle, didn’t it?

Marilyn Mellone (Kristin’s mom) It did, I know it was a miracle. It was like, you know, two grandsons in 24 hours, and you know, to have it happen that way, I know it was a miracle.  

Kristin Kalning Back on the phone, Rachel gave me as many details as she could, and then promised to send me an e-mail with the full referral as soon as we hung up. I immediately called Steve. I got his voicemail. I left a message that conveyed how much he really needed to call me back. Minutes passed, and I called again. Dude, you really need to call me. As we pulled up to the airport, still no call. So, I called the front desk and asked the receptionist, who knew was what going on, to page Steve right away. She got the picture. Steve called me back seconds later.

Kristin Kalning So I finally track you down after calling you and leaving you messages and having you paged. So when I had you paged, did you know what I was calling about?

Steve Kalning (Laughter) Yeah I think I had a pretty clear idea. Yeah, I think the message was: You need to call your wife right now! I was like, Oh. OK. 

Kristin Kalning Were you excited?

Steve Kalning Yeah, I was super excited, but you were trying to get on the airplane.

Steve Kalning And it was, you know, before the day where you had Wi-Fi on the airplanes and you could send me a bunch of stuff, so it literally became, I have the form, I have the referral, I have everything- I’ll send it over to you when you land, meet me at home.

Kristin Kalning Yeah.

Steve Kalning And you know, you weren’t flying back from across the country.

Kristin Kalning No. Thankfully.

Steve Kalning It was just down the coast, so it wasn’t super far, but, yeah, I think I was excited to see what, you know, to get to my email and take a peek and see what was going on.

Kristin Kalning And then, what did you feel when you saw him? You saw him before I did.

Steve Kalning Oh … he’s just this beautiful little boy. I remember actually showing a picture to a coworker, which I know you’re not supposed to do but I work in a shared office and,

Kristin Kalning Yeah.

Steve Kalning And they’re like, “She’s beautiful!” And it’s like, aw, he’s a little guy, he just happens to be wearing a pink sweater —

Kristin Kalning (Laughter) A pink sweater.

Steve Kalning A pink sweater.

Kristin Kalning That pink sweater.

Steve Kalning And a shaved head.

Kristin Kalning Yeah.

Steve Kalning ] I think, you know, just kind of running home and start making the appointments to call for the doctors, and to get the referral, to go over all the medical information but you know, it felt like, you know, it felt like that was our son.

Kristin Kalning Yeah. Absolutely.

Kristin Kalning Meanwhile I raced to catch my plane. I was really, really late. The baggage counter guy at Southwest reminded me of this fact about three times, but I was totally bulletproof that day.  

I tore up to the TSA counter, and when the guy asked me how my day was going, I blurted out: I’m a mom! He looked at my belly, and then at my face, and then waved me through.

I ran to my gate and down the jetway, and the door of the plane closed behind me. I was crying and laughing at the same time, and I plopped into the first empty seat I found. I must have seemed insane, because the woman next to me got up and changed seats. I spent the next hour and 50 minutes staring at the seat in front of me. It really felt like I was in a movie – one where the heroine finally gets good news and everything changes to soft focus. 

All of a sudden this was HAPPENING. This was REAL. We had filled out the paperwork and submitted to the fingerprinting, and to the social worker visits, and now there was a real, live child that had been matched to us. I couldn’t wait to land, to download the zip file that would contain his picture and his full details.

The second the plane touched down, I took my phone off airplane mode and searched for Rachel’s email. When I found it, I clicked on the zip file containing our child’s photo and information, and waited while it downloaded. I was still waiting for it to download at baggage claim, but there it was. My heart was thudding like a sledgehammer as I clicked and there was my child, the most adorable, beautiful, smiley baby in the whole world. I was in love, totally head over heels in love, with this baby boy.

Steve and I pulled up at the house at the same time. I remember sharing a look with him, one that said absolutely everything. Everything we’d been through, and now, finally, someone had decided that we could parent this beautiful boy. We hadn’t given up. And it looked like our efforts would finally result in a family.

Steve cautioned me not to get too attached, that we still needed to get our pre-adoption consultation, but it was way too late for me. Barring some undiagnosed syndrome, he was our boy.

Steve and I went to Ethiopia that June, and brought home our son. I’d tell you more about our Ethiopia trip and the amazing lifelong friends we made during it, but that’s a story for another time.

Before we left, we had some notion that we’d name our son Noah, but once we met him, we decided to keep his Ethiopian name. It suits him. Still, because he’s a minor, we’re having him use a pseudonym for the podcast.

Kristin Kalning Hey so: What do you think you want your podcast name to be?

Scott Kalning Scott, because my favorite Marvel character, one of them, is Ant-Man, and his first name’s Scott, so …

Kristin Kalning OK, but you don’t want me to call you Ant-Man?

Scott Kalning No thank you, please.

Kristin Kalning OK, it’s Scott.

Scott Kalning Yes.

Kristin Kalning OK, Scott, how old are you?

Scott Kalning Ten.

Kristin Kalning What grade are you going into?

Scott Kalning Fifth.

Kristin Kalning OK. And, what sorts of things do you like to do, Scott?

Scott Kalning Play outside, play basketball, play soccer, play video games.

Kristin Kalning OK, thanks.

Scott Kalning You’re welcome, have a good day.

Kristin Kalning A few years later, we started looking into adopting again from Ethiopia, but CHSFS had closed its program. We began working with another agency, WACAP, in Washington state, but the wait times were growing longer and longer, up to four years. Eventually, we decided to adopt our second child from WACAP’s China program. And in 2015, Steve, Scott and I boarded a plane for Beijing. The little boy we brought home is six years old now, and as you’ll hear, he likes pretty much everything.

Kristin Kalning So … what do you want your podcast name to be?

Peter Kalning Peter.

Kristin Kalning Like Peter Parker?

Peter Kalning Yeah.

Kristin Kalning Like Spiderman?

Peter Kalning Yeah.

Kristin Kalning So you must like superheroes.

Peter Kalning Yeah.

Kristin Kalning What are some of your other favorite things?

Peter Kalning Everything in the whole wide world.

Kristin Kalning Wow.

Peter Kalning And monster trucks. And superheroes, and supervillains, and candy. And food, and playing with parents, and going on trips, and trophies, and pictures, and posters, and China.

Kristin Kalning Steve and I had done lots of prep with Scott about becoming a big brother. We expected some blowback from him. He had been an only child, the undisputed prince for six years, but I don’t think we anticipated how hurt and angry Scott would be. Don’t get me wrong, in the initial days Scott was a huge help with Peter, but then it started to dawn on him that he had to share our attention, and Peter needed a lot of attention. At three years old, he was in 18-month-old clothes, and he was pretty fragile. He needed to be carried up and down stairs. He couldn’t run or jump. I remember lots of joy from that period and lots of firsts. But there was also a bit of strife, as we tried to balance the needs of our new son, and those of our first one.

Three years later, our two boys get along, most of the time. Those rough early days have settled down into pretty typical sibling rivalry. I’ll be honest, the teasing and the screaming and the rough housing can be pretty annoying most days, but if I take a step back, I remember how much I longed for a home full of noise, and laughter, and family. And then I go pour myself a glass of wine.

Real Life Adoption is hosted by me, Kristin Kalning. And I got a lot of help with this inaugural episode from my husband, Steve Kalning, and our two boys. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Stacy Harris and Dave Nelson from Lens Group Media for helping me get this podcast off the ground. Dave, in particular, has done everything from provide me with hardware recommendations to performing magic on my audio.

To learn more about the podcast, including how you can pitch an idea, go to Real Life Adoption podcast dot com. We’d love to hear from you!

*Kick was my childhood nickname. And yes, my family still uses it.