It is 1962 and Rodney and I are watching the news. We have two sons but yearn for a daughter. I long for another female in our family. The news highlights Chinese refugees streaming into Hong Kong. We suddenly express the same thought, “Why not adopt a little girl who has no family?”
As I turn the news off, I stammer, “I hadn’t thought about adoption before. I think that is the only way we can have a daughter.”
Rodney laughs. “Let’s find out what we need to do.”
The State of Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is our avenue for adopting a child from another country. Our assigned caseworker explains, “Our meetings will help me determine if your family is special enough for me to search for a little girl.”
When we learn that international adoptions require travel to China, we realize an international adoption is beyond our reach financially.
Several weeks later the caseworker asks, “Must this be an international adoption?”
“We just want a girl,” I reply.
After several more weeks she calls, “Can you come to my office, to see a picture of a little girl?”
We gaze at a picture of a nine-month old with bright brown eyes peaking out from a frame of thick dark hair. We are captivated.
Our caseworker explains, “Native American tribes recently changed their restrictions concerning adoption. Previously they kept their children with the tribe. However, the Nevada State Department of Health and Welfare suggested this little girl for you. Born in Reno, Nevada on September 10, 1963, she is known as Baby Girl Downs.”
She continues, “The birth parents signed a release. Her ancestry is a mix of Shoshone, Paiute and Caucasian. She has lived with foster parents, an older couple in their fifties, since she was six days old.”
Rodney and I know this is our daughter. We ask no questions of health or history. We instantly say, “Yes.”
The caseworker talks with our boys, Ben, ten years old and Tim, eight and they both agree, “Having a baby sister will be fun.”
On June 24, 1964, our eagerness rises to a fevered pitch as we drive to the airport. We wait at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport for the United flight from Reno. We drink root beer floats for our anesthetic.
We can’t wait to greet Mary Helyn Wilson, named Mary for my mother and Helyn for Rodney’s mother. At last, the airplane, a modern baby-carrying stork, gives birth to an eighteen-pound, nine-month old baby girl in a pink playsuit. I ache to hold her.
When they hand Mary to me, euphoria settles over me like a cloud. I momentarily forget everything else, barely listening to the “new parent” advice I am receiving. I force myself to sit still, holding this precious child on my lap. Ben and Tim make giggling noises as they reach to touch her, while Rodney’s face beams delight.
The caseworkers share parting remarks, “We won’t go home with you. You need a restful weekend to welcome this baby girl into your home.”
Trembling, I carry our daughter to the parking garage. My thoughts scatter, too excited to think straight. It is hard to believe she is real.
The community buzzes when word of the baby girl’s arrival spreads. During the weekend twelve neighbors drop by to meet Mary.
The real kick is teen-agers from the church youth group, who can’t wait to meet the new wonder in our midst. For ten years I have worked with the youth group, and they are well nigh as electrified as we are. A baby shower a couple of weeks earlier introduced the high school boys to diapers, little blankets, tiny shirts and shoes.
A stimulating, though not particularly restful time, greets this new baby.
The next day, Mary surveys the neighborhood from my bicycle strapped into a new baby seat. What a magical time as I wave at neighbors up and down the block.
Duke loves her immediately. She squeals with glee when he comes into view. She greets all with a big grin as we attend a boy-scout picnic Saturday afternoon.
Mary seems wary of conking off. Fear of our disappearance if she sleeps floats in the air. Once asleep, she is content. She has shared her first nine months with another baby girl in the foster parents’ home. Alone is a new experience.
She loves being in the playpen, but shows distress at being left on the floor alone. Who are we to argue? We purchased the playpen for use in the yard, but we bring it into the living room and she loves it. She jabbers happily when eight-year old Tim climbs into the playpen also. Her happiness quotient rises in proportion to the number of people around.
Her two brothers chatter in baby talk and play with her fingers and toes. Mary coos and giggles.
The boys take turns holding her, feeding her and even changing her diaper as long as it is only wet. They beg to take this new sister to school for “show and tell.” Tim wheels her as far as the corner in her new red stroller. Neighborhood kids gather round.
Tim stands back against the fence eyeing all the admiration, and later confesses, “I wasn’t too sure before she came, but I sure do like her now.”
The next year and a half flies by with social worker visits and finally a court date. The red-letter day is April 7, 1966 when a stern looking judge signs the Certificate of Adoption.
Mary is thirty-one when she phones to share the news of her first pregnancy. I burst into tears when I hear, “It’s a girl.”
We have watched for many years as our little girl grew into womanhood. A daughter fulfills many dreams. Gratefulness fills me as I ponder the many blessings inspired by a long ago news program. What prompted that decision? Blessings appear unexpectedly.