CONTRIBUTED BY JOELLE YAMADA
She waited tables. For several years. But at 23 she found herself beginning to look around at the 45 year old women who were also waiting tables and decided maybe she wanted more. Maybe she wanted to be rich and famous.
So she got herself back to college at the University of Arkansas, got a degree in criminal justice and applied to Law School, something that in the late 90’s was still fairly ground breaking for women. She’d never met or talked to a lawyer. Didn’t really know what lawyers did, but she liked to write, like to analyze, liked to argue – so it seemed the perfect fit.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great fit for her marriage. Her husband asked for a divorce two days before her freshman law school finals. The first court case she ever did was her own divorce. In hindsight, she knows it was the right thing – but more than a little tough.
She graduated in 1998 and proceeded over the next five years to work her way from being an attorney for Child Protective Services, to working at the Prosecuting Attorney’s office, to the Arkansas Attorney General’s office (where Mike Huckabee worked at the time – her little claim to fame!).
Even after five years, she continued to be anxious before every trial, but it didn’t seem to be reflected on the outside. Once she got up and started talking, the nerves fell away. And she’d win.
In September 2003, Katie met Mike. He was stationed at an Air Force base in Little Rock. It was a blind date set up by their friends who were dating. “You both like to argue, we think you’ll get along great.” And they did. And they knew. They were married the following April.
But there was a little catch. His 11 year old daughter lived with him. Katie promised not to be an evil stepmom and she jumped into motherhood with two feet. It was an adjustment, for sure. She had no real parenting skills and realized there is a reason you normally start out with a baby. They had to make their own way. Luckily, Mike had done a great job as a parent and Amber was a good kid.
She remembers one incident early on in her experience as a mother. The holidays were coming up and she’d asked Amber to clean her room. But she didn’t want too. They both knew this was about more than cleaning and so Katie held her ground. A fight ensued. And Katie stayed firm. She knew she needed to win this battle of wills to establish that she was the mom. She won.
Five weeks after they married, Mike got orders to McClellan Air Force base outside of Sacramento. She was pleased to be returning to the area where she had grown up — but she gave up her job, her friends, her church and her life. She’d have to take the California bar which incredibly wasn’t scheduled until the following February. She was so thrilled to be married and to have a family, but being uprooted like that was hard. Very hard. “I didn’t know what to do with myself without my life and my job. I felt like I was now worth less than before. I wasn’t being productive or earning a paycheck. When I wanted to buy something, I was used to spending my money. Now it was “our money” – which was really just his money.”
Those of us who are Katie’s age grew up with a lot of feminist ideals that we held on to tightly. We were taught not to ever need anyone’s help. To be able to stand on our own. Pay our own way. Not ask for support. Her mother and father divorced when she was 10 years old and she had watched her mother struggle for everything. Unfortunately, those ideals now made her life very difficult. She was dependent for the first time since childhood. It was hard.
She studied and took the bar in February 2005. In June she got her results – she’d won again (passed!) and that same week her husband made Chief Master Sergeant. Incredibly though, that meant they had to PCS. Again. She told Mike, either we stay in California, or you move me somewhere really cool.
They stayed in California – Vandenburg AF base, north of Santa Barbara — where she became a law associate at a snazzy law firm with cool parties and lots of bleach blondes. Her life felt a bit like a made for TV movie. Mike deployed their second year there and she was suddenly the single parent of a teenager. Juggling activities and pick-up schedules was hard and gave her a little glimpse into all that her mom had gone through raising her and her brother alone.
When they moved to Vandenburg, they began the process of trying to have a baby. Mike had a vasectomy reversal and things seemed pretty good… and then he deployed. When he returned and was examined, it was found that the surgery had not been successful after all. This was a big disappointment to them both. But they began looking at other options. IVF was $25k a pop. And besides the expense, Katie wasn’t sure she wanted to deal with all the hormone injections. So they started talking adoptions. And wonderfully at that moment, it was time to PCS again. She tried to trust that things would all work out and that God had a plan even though she couldn’t see or feel it.
Okinawa was number five on their list. When Mike called to say they had orders she said… fabulous.
They arrived in August 2007 and she thought WHY AM I HERE? But within the first weeks, she contacted an American attorney on the island (Annette, who primarily works to secure child support for Japanese women from American servicemen). She made an appointment and talked with her about what opportunities there might be for her to work in Japan. She found out that Annette had worked on some adoptions as well. It was something she tucked into the back of her mind.
After they got settled, they attended an adoption seminar on Foster sponsored by the Okinawa Adoption Support Group. The meeting was very helpful. Lots of practical information about the process, the cost, the experience. But they were still debating. IVF seemed to be less and less of an option now that she wasn’t working at all and their income had been cut in half.
Katie started going to the women’s Bible study at Chapel 1 (PWOC) and met Cynthia, who had adopted a little girl years before. They met to chat one day and Katie says she spent the majority of the time balling her eyes out. It was amazing how wonderful it felt to talk to someone who really knew all that she was going through. Had walked in the same shoes. Had survived the same struggles.
She asked all the unanswerable questions: Why was this happening? They were good people. There are teenagers out there having babies they don’t want. Why can’t God give us a child when we really want one? She’d even begun to wonder if all that she had grown up believing – that being successful was most important – might now be costing her something. That maybe she didn’t deserve to have her own child. Cynthia said, “I don’t believe God would have put this in your heart if it wasn’t a desire he wanted to fulfill.” Katie wasn’t able to go that far herself but was willing to believe that Cynthia believed. And somehow that helped.
In December, she and Mike decided to go the route of adoption. She emailed Annette and asked for her to keep them in mind.
On Christmas Eve, they received an email from Annette. There was a woman about 7 months pregnant interested in putting her child up for adoption.
And the ball began to roll. Quickly. Down the mountain side.
The birth mother wanted to interview the families. There were three other couples. They wrote a letter and made a picture book. Cynthia came over to take photos of their family and home. Katie remembers being so nervous going to the meeting in January. She’d been on some hard court cases and some tough interviews before, but this was by far the worst ever. How do you prove you can be a good mom when you really have no idea yourself? Why would she choose them – they were older and already had older children. But surprisingly the birth mother was also an older woman – not what they’d expected – and that gave some hope.
In early February they received a call that the birth mother had some more questions. When they got to the meeting the woman said, “She picked you. The baby picked you.”
What to say? There were no words. Gratefulness. Joy. Disbelieve. Undeservedness. The mother cried. They cried. She was due on March 14, so they only had about 6 weeks to prepare.
Katie wanted to wait to buy things. The lawyer in her was saying, it’s not done until the papers are signed. But Mike said no, and held her hand as they went to shop for cribs and baby blankets. Picking the first item and placing it into the cart was so hard. No longer was it just a meeting or a legal transaction. There was a baby and she was going to come and be theirs.
Cynthia threw them a quick baby shower and she was still opening gifts and making arrangements on February 27 when they got the call that the baby was coming. Two weeks early. They went to the hospital outside Gate 1 and waited. And waited. And waited.
A doctor came down and told them the baby was cyanotic at birth and was having trouble breathing. They whisked the baby off to a bigger hospital and left the birth mother there to recuperate. Through broken English, the birth mother told them the baby had blue lips and a heart murmur and that she’d been taken to get more help.
Katie says it was like standing at the threshold and suddenly having the door closed.
Because of legal issues, only the birth mother could give them information. And she was sleeping and recovering. When the mother moved to the hospital where baby Sarah was, the staff encouraged her to give breast milk as it would help Sarah. So the birth mother began breastfeeding the little girl. She wanted to do all she could to help her daughter to be healthy and strong.
All of this terrified Katie. Would she still want to give her up? Why would she? But she was beginning to understand that this was not about winning. This was about what was best for this child.
Katie didn’t meet Sarah until she was 10 days old. And she was only allowed to be there with the birth mother. Awkward, to say the least. What do you say? But it became clear that the birth mother was still on the same page. Katie was able to continue to visit regularly. The doctors had explained Sarah’s heart condition. She was told they were running some tests. Some genetic tests. And she began to have suspicions.
A week later, the doctor asked to meet with her and her husband. When they arrived, they found the room full of people. The pediatric cardiologist, the head nurse, a social worker, the pediatrician and the translator all in attendance. The doctor said, “The test results have come back. Sarah has Down’s Syndrome.” He said, “We thought you’d like to take some time to consider.”
And Mike said, loudly (not at all in keeping with the gentle Japanese tone of the meeting), “THINK ABOUT WHAT? She’s our daughter.”
Katie was crying. The translator was crying. The birth mother and the gruff head nurse were crying. She looked over at the cardiologist as he just nodded his head.
She’s perfect the way she is.
They made arrangements to bring Sarah home on March 21. The birth mother requested that Katie not visit the day before so they could have a last day together. Would she try to leave with the baby? Katie wouldn’t blame her. The ever present concern wouldn’t leave. But when they arrived on that Good Friday, Sarah was there to greet them. The birth mother had presents to be given to Sarah over the next years. Katie will send updates to the lawyer once a year in case the birth mother would like to see Sarah
It’s not quite over. Weeks later they had an appointment with an investigator at the Japanese courthouse that lasted nearly 4 hours. They had a home visit last month that Katie just about made herself crazy cleaning for. And last Friday the investigator made a recommendation to the court which the judge should rule on in the next 2 weeks.
By Thanksgiving Sarah will truly be theirs. And Katie says she’ll finally have a good night’s sleep.
She believes she never could have done this if she wasn’t a lawyer. There was an understanding of Japanese adoption law as well as immigration law required to navigate all of this. Normally this kind of thing would be handled by an agency, but there was no agency for Sarah.
Katie had wondered WHY AM I GOING TO OKINAWA. Then she met Annette and Cynthia. And Sarah. Sarah was here waiting for them. Katie was able to overcome the legal details, the military immediately offers full coverage for Sarah’s needs – a lot of complicated things came together perfectly for Sarah’s best interest. “That’s my kind of God,” Katie says. “I did go to law school for some reason. That reason was Sarah.”
Sarah is now 8 months old and Katie is still struggling to figure out how she will incorporate a career with motherhood. She knows if she were in the States she’d be tempted to go back to work full-time. But here she just can’t and that’s a gift. Okinawa relieves her of the pressure to get back into it. It’s easier here to put her family first. She knows the merry-go-round will still be spinning whenever they get back – ready for her to jump back on if she wants too.
In the mean time she’s accepted an offer to teach Business Law for the Universtiy of Phoenix here starting in January. The class is one night a week. Still plenty of time to spend with Sarah.
“I miss the intellectual challenge of work – but my heart was made to be Mom to Sarah.”