Heidi, a hopeful mother to be, sat down in her seat and anxiously waited to depart from the Frankfurt, Germany airport.
A few rows ahead of her was an empty seat — the one that was supposed to be occupied by her husband, Eric. One small mistake they had made resulted in Heidi making the flight from Germany to New Orleans alone.
And not only was she alone on a flight that was about to take her halfway around the world — she was alone on a trip to meet and return with her adopted newborn baby.
In March 2009, Heidi and Eric left their California home for Landstuhl, Germany, after Eric, an engineering assistant for the 17th Air Force, was assigned to Ramstein Air Base.
After learning of their move to Germany, the couple created a blog called “The Adventures of Eric and Heidi” to keep friends current on their lives overseas. The couple updates the blog frequently, which has included stories and pictures of their move to Germany, their tour of local castles, Eric’s assignments around the world and would soon include a story they wouldn’t have been able to make up if they tried.
In May 2009, they announced on their blog that they had decided to enter parenthood through adoption. Eric and Heidi had always planned on having a family consisting of biological and adopted children, but after their doctor performed a fertility assessment, they were told that their family would have to be built through adoption unless they tried infertility treatments.
For most couples, this news can be devastating. However, Eric and Heidi are not an ordinary couple.
“It took us about a half a second, literally, to decide,” Heidi says. “We kind of looked at each other, shrugged and said, ‘I don’t think so, but thank you.’”
Eric and Heidi originally decided to adopt internationally but, after several stories from other international adoptive parents, they instead chose domestic adoption.
A woman in the adoption support group referred Heidi to a Florida adoption agency, and she immediately called them. They told Heidi that they were not accepting any more adoptive families because their waiting list was so long, so she suggested that Heidi contact American Adoptions. Once again, Heidi quickly followed up on the referral, and she and Eric were soon active with the agency.
In late September, Eric was assigned to work for a week in Spain, a country Heidi had always wanted to visit because of her work as a middle school Spanish teacher. It was always at the top of their list of countries to visit during their stay in Europe.
The next thing Heidi knew, she was on a plane to Spain to meet Eric, who had surprised her by buying her a ticket to join him there. Eric and Heidi visited beautiful Spaniard beaches, palaces and cathedrals, ate seafood every night and had a relaxing trip. After their final beachfront dinner at sundown, they drove back to the hotel, preparing for the next morning’s flight.
When they arrived, they had a missed call from American Adoptions’ Lara Sandusky. Heidi immediately called back, but American Adoptions had just closed for the day, so the couple had to wait until the next morning to find out the news. Even though they had been active for only two months, they figured it had to be important since the agency knew they were on vacation.
They were right.
The next day at the airport, Heidi was going through security without Eric when her phone rang.
“Do I need to be sitting down for this call?” she asked.
“Yes, you need to be sitting down with paper and a pencil,” Lara replied.
Heidi was told of a birth mother named Brittany in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who had selected her and Eric as parents to her baby daughter. She was due at the end of October.
Thrilled at the news, Heidi had to wait until Eric was home at 1:30 a.m. to tell anyone. When Heidi finally told her husband the news that night, the moment was undoubtedly worth the wait.
“It was the best news that I think I've ever received in my life," Eric says.
Their adventure into adoption was just about to begin.
Because of the time difference, when birth mother Brittany unexpectedly into labor one Sunday, Eric and Heidi didn’t find out for hours.
“We had nothing ready,” Heidi says. “We had a sink full of dirty dishes, a big pile of laundry, no car rental, no hotel reservations, no plane tickets, we hadn’t transferred money from savings into checking, and Eric wasn’t even on leave. He can’t leave the country without permission. It was a busy night.”
The couple rushed around their house for the next couple of hours, bought airplane tickets, received clearance from Eric’s supervisor, and made it to the Frankfurt airport early that Monday morning. They had made it; the craziness of that night appeared to be behind them.
They arrived at the terminal gate just in time for the flight. Eric had bought the tickets separately — one on his debit card and one on his credit card — so their seats were not together. Before entering the airport loading bridge, they asked the attendant if they could move to seats next to each other. She took their boarding passes, punched the keys of the keyboard and looked back up at Eric.
“Sir, you aren’t a ticketed passenger on this flight,” she said.
“Excuse me? I believe you are wrong. Could you please check again?” Eric asked, thinking she had made a simple mistake. She responded similarly.
“But I have a boarding pass,” he said, prompting the attendant to snatch it from his hand and rip it in half, right in front of their eyes.
Eric went to the ticket desk to sort it out, where he discovered the debit card transaction did not completely go through, even though he was still able to receive a boarding pass and confirmation number. They would have made it on the plane without anyone knowing of the failed transaction if they hadn’t tried to switch seats.
Unfortunately, there were no other flights that day for Eric. With no other options, Heidi kissed and hugged her husband goodbye and proceeded to walk onto the Louisiana-bound plane, about to make the flight across the Atlantic Ocean by herself.
After a layover in Detroit, Heidi finally landed in New Orleans. She carried her bags, Eric’s bags and the baby’s bags throughout both airports by herself, and made it to her rental car. She drove frantically to the Baton Rouge hospital, which was about an hour away, praying it was her daughter there waiting for her.
Heidi entered the hospital and was greeted by Brittany’s social worker, who took her to Brittany’s room. There waiting for her was a panel of people she had never met but were all waiting for her arrival: Brittany and her mom, brother, social worker and nurse.
“That was without a doubt the single most surreal moment of my entire life because I had expected it to be a very private moment,” Heidi says. “I had expected it to be Eric and me by ourselves with the baby, feeling very confident and secure.”
Her experience up to that point clearly was not what she had envisioned, but none of that mattered when Heidi first laid eyes on the baby. She was the most precious baby Heidi had ever seen. However, because of all the curveballs she had been thrown that day, she tried not to get too excited. Brittany still hadn’t made her final decision and couldn’t sign any papers until 72 hours after the baby was born.
Meanwhile back in Germany, Eric had secured a flight for the next morning. Equipped with nothing but a book because Heidi had his luggage, Eric once again went through the Frankfurt airport with his baby daughter in mind. He got stopped at several checkpoints because he appeared suspicious, resulting in him having to retell the story again and again.
“You tend to get a lot of questions when you are traveling internationally with nothing but a book,” Eric says.
Eric didn’t need anything else during his nearly half-day flight. The only thing he could occupy his mind with was being with his wife and hopefully his baby girl.
Heidi spent the night before bonding with Brittany and the newborn, taking turns holding the baby and talking woman to woman, mother to mother — a time that Heidi will remember for the rest of her life.
“It was a moment where nobody else was around. We could both let down our guard and just share that moment that nobody else would understand or know what we were feeling,” Heidi says.
Heidi spent most of Tuesday with the baby, and that night, Eric arrived to meet his baby girl for the first time.
"I was thrilled, scared, and I tried to remain hopeful,” Eric says. “Here was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen and I wanted so badly to call her my own, but at the same time I was trying to keep my heart in check about the reality of the situation. I loved her, but she wasn't mine yet."
While on a lunch break the following day, they received a phone call: Brittany had signed the papers.
Looking back, Heidi believes that there was a reason all along as to why Eric was unable to be there for the first day at the hospital, and why it seemed nothing came easy after receiving that fateful e-mail. It all resulted in her having some invaluable private time with Brittany, and all of the challenges Heidi experienced showed Brittany how dedicated she was to her and Abbi.
Heidi and Eric’s efforts proved to Brittany that they would do anything for her baby girl.
“Our faith is at the center of who we are as people and as a family, and that whole trip I kept asking ‘Why?’” Heidi wonders. “Why does it have to be like this? Can’t this be a little easier? But after that conversation with Brittany, I really think that was the reason why. I think it had to be just Brittany and me. If Eric had been there, it wouldn’t have been the same. I think that was the whole reason that everything happened.”
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