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Longtime Friends Forge Another Link: Adoption

When one woman becomes pregnant with twins, she agrees to give them to her closest confidante, who has no children.

May 21, 2006|Bonnie Miller Rubin | Chicago Tribune

From the moment she saw the ultrasound -- the black-and white images of the twin girls in her womb -- Anese Adams knew she wanted the babies to be adopted by her best friend.

Cynthia Rice had been godmother to Adams' two older children, but the window to bear a child of her own was narrowing. Nearly 38, she'd already had one miscarriage. Her reproductive system was scarred by fibroid tumors, leaving her to struggle with the idea that "this might not be my destiny."

So Adams made a decision: These would be Rice's children.

"Cynthia is my rock," said Adams, 36. "We are sisters without the blood. ... And this is something I could do."

After the friends agreed on this course, their resolve did not waver -- even when doctors said one of the fetuses had developed profound health problems and might be born with Down syndrome.

So it was that the bonds of friendship and motherhood brought Adams and Rice to the delivery room of Rush University Medical Center on a chilly day in May.

Adams -- who was on the operating table, undergoing a Cesarean section -- had been the mother of these girls for the past 35 weeks. Rice, hovering in surgical scrubs, would be their mom for the rest of their lives.

Three days earlier, the friends sat in a booth at a pancake house, recalling the moment the idea came up, not long after the ultrasound in December. They swear it bubbled up spontaneously and simultaneously.

"My first reaction was to ask Anese: 'Can I have those?' " said Rice. "But ... who does that?"

Adams interjected: "I said, 'Are you serious?' "

Rice: "Then I said, 'Are you for real?' "

By this time, they were both collapsing into laughter, just as when they were teens.

*

If precise words elude them in describing their arrangement, perhaps that's because it is easier to explain what it is not.

The women are not lesbian partners. (Adams is separated from her husband; Rice is unmarried.) Nor is this a surrogacy, where a woman is hired to bear an infant. ("Someone asked me if I was getting paid, and I was really offended," Adams said.) Neither woman has a relationship with the father, who has legally consented to the adoption, according to Rice's lawyer, Sara R. Howard.

Adams has signed irrevocable consent, Howard said, and in six months, Rice will finalize the adoption in court.

During the pregnancy, they had endless conversations.

What is Adams' role? To be the twins' godmother, just as Rice is to Adams' children, ages 16 and 7. Who will care for the girls? Rice will take a three-week maternity leave from her job with the Department of Streets and Sanitation. After that, her mother, who lives downstairs, will provide day care.

And what about establishing boundaries?

"It wouldn't be any different if the babies came from Cynthia's womb," said Adams, an executive recruiter who is also a Navy reservist. "I'd still be in their lives, dressing them up and spoiling them, whether I carried them or not."

Such devotion is rooted in their childhood, when the girls lived on the same block. Rice and her cousins would chase Adams, a self-confessed "nerdy bookworm." But when Rice's cousins moved away, the pair became friends. Over the subsequent decades, their shared history grew deeper -- through broken hearts, job woes, the death of a parent.

To these two smart, self-sufficient women with a deep belief in God, some acts just require a leap of faith.

This is one.

"My kids are excited," Adams said. "Cynthia's family is excited. Everything will work out."

*

During their discussions, the question arose: What would happen if something was wrong with the newborns?

By the 19th week of Adams' pregnancy, the possibility was no longer an abstraction. Something troubling popped up in a test, and Adams was referred to Rush's new Fetal and Neonatal Medicine Program, which helps expectant parents with high-risk babies navigate the challenges ahead.

Baby B was diagnosed with atrioventricular canal defect. Instead of two heart valves, she has one, explained Dr. Bettina Cuneo, a perinatal cardiologist. At three months of age, the infant would have to undergo open-heart surgery.

More bad news followed: It was likely Baby B had Down syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality with no surgical fix.

The one-two punch left Adams reeling. The one thing she wanted, to deliver two healthy daughters, wasn't going to happen.

When Adams visited Rice and saw her nesting -- "putting up wallpaper borders in the nursery and hooking a Mickey Mouse rug" -- it gave her a bittersweet feeling.

"I just wanted them to be perfect," she said, her voice cracking. "I did question myself as a vehicle."

Adams also feared her friend might change her mind. But Rice said she needn't have worried: "Why would I not want it? I wouldn't feel any different if this was my biological child.

"Of course, every mother hopes for a healthy baby," she added, weighing her words carefully. "But there are some things we just can't plan. If we could, we'd all have perfect lives."

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