Five months before her November 2009 wedding to Brian Cooper, Megan Cooper learned the chronic night sweats, irritability and insomnia she had been experiencing for the prior few months were not just pre-wedding jitters but confirmation that she was experiencing premature ovarian failure. At age 32, she learned she had already gone through all four stages of menopause.
“Essentially I was infertile,” says Cooper of Bloomfield Hills. “The only way at that point that we would have been able to have a family of our own was through a lot of intervention and third-party assistance.”
Determined, the Coopers quickly began looking into adoption.
“I started researching agencies before the wedding,” Megan says. “The goal was that once we got married, we would commit to one and move forward with a home study.”
Megan knew private domestic adoptions can sometimes take years – and that before even being placed on a private adoption agency’s waiting list, a comprehensive home study would need to take place.
Preparing and waiting
According to the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE), home studies, also known as family assessments, are more than just an inspection of prospective adoptive parents’ physical home. They also include a complete personal history of current family life and past experiences; criminal background checks with fingerprints; health assessments; an income evaluation; and references from family and friends. MARE notes that a study typically takes at least six months to complete.
To identify a private agency and initiate the adoption process, the Coopers did what many people do when approaching something for which they had no personal experience: they Googled it. Their search for southeast Michigan adoption agencies yielded a long list. Ultimately, the Coopers signed on with Morning Star Adoption Center in Southfield.
“I liked the intimate feel,” Megan recalls. “Instead of 300 families on its waiting list, there were only about 30 on the waiting list at the time.” By May 2010, the newlyweds had completed the home study with Morning Star and paid the required $1,500 to do so – in addition to a $1,000 “waiting family” fee.
While on the waiting list, the couple learned from a family acquaintance that a different local private adoption agency was working with a birth mother who was seeking a young, well-educated, Catholic couple with no kids.
“We checked all those boxes, so we jumped,” Megan says, noting she and Brian had expected to wait much longer. “And then essentially, we had to go through this process all over again and pay for it all over again.”
A child of their own?
The Coopers met the birth mom soon after their second home study and were excited that she wanted to move forward. They were told the mother was 11 1/2 weeks along in her pregnancy, though they learned much later it was barely five weeks.
For the next seven-and-a-half months, the Coopers supported the birth mother by paying her rent, cell phone bills, gas, groceries, doctor’s appointment co-pays and more.
While not associated with this adoption, former Morning Star director Jan Weaver confirms that it is common for adoptive parents to cover some level of expenses for birth mothers.
“In the majority of the adoptions with which we assist, the birth mother needs some level of help,” Weaver says. “There are some birth moms who don’t need any financial help, and there are some who need a lot. The majority, though, are somewhere in the middle.”
Weaver notes that most private adoption agencies manage the process of getting birth mothers the funds they may need from adoptive parents through an escrow account set up early in the process and should keep a detailed accounting of all financial transactions.
“The primary reason for this is so that it is done lawfully,” she says. “Also, we know money can be difficult in relationships.”
Weaver notes that many birth mothers are of limited means and may face a real challenge in finding employment while pregnant.
“She may get to a point where she has zero dollars,” Weaver says. “Do we let her get evicted because she is pregnant? The bottom line is that we want to make sure a pregnant woman can carry her child in a safe and healthy way. She needs access to a phone to call 911 in an emergency. She needs a roof over her head and maternity clothes.”
On more than one occasion, Megan took the birth mother with whom she and Brian were connected to buy maternity clothes and drove her to all of her prenatal appointments.
“We were told to expect to have to cover A, B and C of financial expenses for her for the duration of her pregnancy thinking that she was almost 12 weeks along,” Megan says. “We didn’t expect to be carrying her as long as we did, but we agreed.”
Relatively early on, the Coopers became alarmed at the frequency of monetary requests from the birth mom, noting that the escrow account they paid into was draining way faster than they were told to expect.
“The constant response we always got was, ‘She is giving you her baby, give her what she wants,'” Megan recalls.
In the fall of 2011, with the baby’s due date drawing near and just a few days before a shower friends had planned for the Coopers at the birth mother’s request, the entire adoption began to unravel.
“A friend of the birth mother’s contacted the agency letting them know that the birth mother had a baby registry and a shower planned of her own,” Brian says. “When she would go out with friends she would joke about how she was scamming this couple.”
The agency was able to determine via social media that the birth mother may very well have had ulterior motives.
“There were pages of Facebook posts indicating she had no intention of ever giving us this baby, going all the way back to the week we met her,” Megan says. “Apparently, she was outwardly bragging to friends.”
In the end, the adoption didn’t happen, and the Coopers were out some $7,000 in birth mother expenses and $3,500 in agency fees.
Hurt, frustrated and concerned about finances, the Coopers decided to sign on with a local foster agency in February 2012. While that required a new home study, the Coopers would not be responsible for that cost. According to Katie Page Sander, supervisor of the Parent to Parent program for the Adoptive Family Support Network and formerly a manager at Judson Center’s Foster Care Navigator Program, parents can adopt a child through the foster care system without paying more than $150 in court and birth certificate fees – “And even those are reimbursable.”
This was appealing to the Coopers who were also encouraged by the experience of friends who had recently adopted an infant through the system. While the Coopers waited for a call from the agency about a possible placement meeting their criteria, they learned through a family friend of a little girl being fostered by her aunt and uncle who weren’t in a position to keep her long term.
“The birth mother was on board with volunteering to sign off her rights,” Megan says. “We didn’t have a reason to believe that this was going to get complicated.”
The Coopers first met 16-month-old Loghan in April 2012, falling in love with her a bit more with each interaction. She moved in with the couple that June.
“We went to court thinking this would go right to adoption, but her birth mother then decided she wanted her back,” Megan says.
The Coopers agreed to foster her while the mother was given repeated 90-day extensions to prove she was committed to taking the necessary steps for reunification.
“There were many moments where I would wake up in a panic attack like, ‘Oh, my God, we are going to have to give her back.'”
With years of experience with foster parents, Page Sander acknowledges they are asked to do a very difficult dance emotionally.
“The goal of foster care ultimately is reunification of a child with his or her biological family,” Page Sander says. “It’s highly emotional. You’re sharing parenting with someone who has sometimes been neglectful or abusive.”
Dreams dashed again
As the Coopers were shuttling Loghan back and forth to supervised visits with her birth mother and attending court hearings about the little girl’s future, they received a call from the foster care agency about an expectant mother in prison whose parental rights were to be terminated. The birth father was in a separate prison and his parental rights had already been terminated.
“We were told that no family had come forward to claim this baby,” Megan says. “By all accounts it looked like the perfect scenario, only it wasn’t.” The Coopers had been fostering the baby for three months when relatives out of state came forward to contest the Coopers’ adoption petition.
“We were told when she was placed with us that these relatives had been looked into and ruled out because they were not deemed fit,” Megan says. “That wasn’t true at all. They were not approved because there was an issue with the square footage of their home. It was an issue with their bedroom arrangements, which they were in the process of fixing. All of that was clearly noted on the file, but when the social worker called us, ultimately she hadn’t read the file.”
To get his own grasp on the details of the case and why the adoption process had stalled, Brian Cooper began attending the Flint-based court hearings. With each hearing, the prospects of adopting the little girl they loved and had cared for since she was days old looked less and less promising.
Finally, on April 21, 2013, the Coopers learned the baby would be going to biological family members in Tennessee. A week later, trembling, they handed the 5-month-old over to strangers in a conference room.
“The days and weeks after that were simply awful,” Megan says. “We had every intention of adopting her. Our hearts were broken.”
Thankfully, the Coopers found the baby’s parents to be warm, kind-hearted people who asked them to stay on as her godparents. The Coopers remain in touch with her new adoptive parents to this day.
“The only saving grace in all of that was the fact that I was able to have a relationship with them, and we knew where she was going and that they didn’t do anything wrong.”
Finally a family!
Despite repeated heartbreak, the Coopers dared to hold out hope that Loghan’s adoption would become a reality. Their dream came true on Oct. 16, 2013, when they walked into the Oakland County Family Court as foster parents to the almost 3-year-old little girl and walked out as her parents, no disclaimers attached, no follow-up court dates to come.
From first learning of Loghan’s existence to her adoption, 18 months had passed. The Coopers decided to throw a big party inviting 100 of their closest friends to celebrate.
Though Loghan was now a toddler and had been living with the Coopers for almost a year and a half, Megan was finally able to take maternity leave from her job as a special education teacher in the Avondale School District. She took off from Thanksgiving break in November 2013 until just after Jan. 1. “It was the most therapeutic, fun six weeks to just be with her and Christmas shop and decorate and bake and go to museums,” Megan recalls. “It was super cathartic after all of the upheaval. I started to feel like myself again.”
The more, the merrier
About a month into Megan’s maternity leave and just a few days before Christmas, the Coopers got an unexpected call from Morning Star, the first agency with which they had signed on early in their adoption journey.
“They said, ‘We have a situation,'” Megan recalls. “We had been here before with other agencies, so I didn’t get my hopes up.”
The agency let the Coopers know a young woman was expecting and had selected them to be her child’s adoptive parents. She was due in February 2014, so the Coopers would have to quickly update their home study to reflect the addition of Loghan as well as to provide updated health and financial information.
Just five days after Christmas on the morning the Coopers were scheduled to meet the birth mother at a Panera in Clinton Township, they received another call from Morning Star. “I thought for sure they were calling to say it was canceled. But they said, ‘No, that’s not it at all.’ Turns out the birth mother was in the hospital in early labor.”
The doctors were doing what they could to stop her labor, but the café rendezvous was replaced with a hospital room introduction – the one face-to-face meeting they would have.
“We left that meeting not really knowing where we stood,” Brian recalls. Later that evening, the Coopers got another call.
“Our agency let us know that the birth mother liked us and wanted to move forward with us,” Megan says. “We went to a birthday party later that night sitting on this giant secret. We were in such a daze.”
The next morning the Coopers received yet another call from the agency.
“I figured they were going to let us know the mom had been discharged or that they were going to ask us to sign some paperwork. Instead, Jan asked us if we still wanted to move forward. We said, ‘Of course.’ She said, ‘Good, because the baby is here.'”
The baby had come eight weeks early and ultimately stayed in the NICU for about four weeks, but by Jan. 2, 2014, the Coopers were signing paperwork to take over custodial care of the baby they named Maren. Just over a month later, on Feb. 8, her adoption petition was filed. Megan became the first-ever teacher in her school district to take two maternity leaves in the same school year when she left for six weeks, from late January through early March 2014, to be at home with her new daughter whose adoption became official Aug. 29, 2014. In July 2015, Megan officially resigned from her teaching job.
“I just couldn’t bear the thought of going back to work and leaving the two kids we fought so hard for,” she says. “My dream would be to go back when our youngest is getting on a bus to go to school all day. In a perfect world, I would love to take my kids to school, they go to their classrooms, I go to mine, and then we all come home together.”
Regardless of what the future holds, the Coopers are, at present, simply content that their most ardent dreams have come true in the form of two precious little girls they now call their own. One day, Loghan and Maren will learn the details of their journey to mom and dad and to each other. In the meantime, this party of four is relishing in life’s simple pleasures and the privilege of getting to experience them together.
Photo by Lauren Jeziorski