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A home for Christmas

After spending two years in the search to adopt an infant, Cole and Jeanette McCormick of Jackson have a brown-haired baby boy, Landon.

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Cole and Jeanette McCormick with baby Landon pose in front of the Christmas tree in their Jackson home. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

JACKSON — Jeanette McCormick looks across the room at her son, sound asleep as he rocks in an electronic MamaRoo, and says he is the greatest gift.

The pastor of Worthington’s First Lutheran Church then quickly corrects herself, saying that Jesus is the greatest gift. Landon Zane Glenn McCormick is a “wonderful, amazing gift.”

Jeanette and her husband, Cole, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Estherville, Iowa, are celebrating their first Christmas as parents. Their son is one month old today.

Landon’s story is one of strength and resiliency.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, to a 30-something-year-old woman unable to overcome addiction to heroin and methamphetamine, the little brown-haired baby came into the world with an addiction not of his choosing. Presumably out of fear, she did not seek prenatal care.

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One choice the birth mother did make, however, was to place Landon with an adoptive family — to choose a stable home for him. She didn’t have the means to care for an infant, and was considered homeless before connecting with the McCormicks. Through the adoption process, the Jackson couple provided rental payments leading up to Landon’s birth. The payments will cease at the end of this month.

Saying she wanted her baby to “land in” a good home, the birth mother chose his name, Landon. The middle names were selected by Jeanette and Cole — Zane is a form of John, a nod to five generations of John Clark (Jeanette notes her name is also derived from John); and Glenn is a tribute to a grandfather Cole was especially close to.

Landon was born Nov. 24, weighing 7 pounds, 9.7 ounces. His birth came within hours of the McCormicks’ arrival at the Salt Lake City hospital. Jeanette, who joined the birth mother in the delivery room, was given the honor of cutting the umbilical cord. Meanwhile, Cole patiently paced the waiting room and kept up with text messages.

“Nov. 23 she called and said she was having contractions,” Jeanette recalled. It was a Saturday, which meant leaders would be called upon for Sunday services. “We quickly called the churches. We’d had tentative plans starting in early November; we didn’t want to leave people in a lurch. It was nice to just call and say ‘Implement the plan.’”

With things taken care of at home, the McCormicks could focus on Landon. For a week following his birth, the baby was given morphine to help him work through the 12 steps of withdrawal from the heroin and methamphetamine in his system.

“At first he was having a really hard time swallowing,” Jeanette said, noting Landon was fitted with a feeding tube and nursing staff worked on his swallowing.

Like other infants born with drug addictions, Landon endured significant tremors, which became more pronounced as the morphine wore off.

“Over time, he became better at being calm even as the morphine was wearing off,” Jeanette said, adding Landon continues to have some tremors. “They often comment that babies will go back and forth through the stages (of withdrawal), but he only regressed once. That was really incredible, and thanks be to God for that blessing.

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“The best thing we could do was to be there and help him through it — that was our role,” she said. They could hold him, walk with him and talk to him, added Cole.

Landon was released from the hospital 48 hours after being completely weaned from the morphine. In all, he was hospitalized for nearly a week.

Follow-up medical checks for Landon, as well as legal paperwork and a court hearing regarding temporary placement, kept the McCormicks in Utah until Landon was two weeks old. They settled into a hotel room, where they bonded with their son and received a visit from his birth mother. Though she had relinquished her parental rights within 24 hours of the delivery, the open adoption format means she will continue to receive pictures and updates on Landon for as long as she’d like.

“Every open adoption looks very different,” Jeanette said. “It’s really based on what you, as a family, are open to and what the biological mom and family are looking for.

“(The birth mother) has expressed how grateful and happy she is that he’s in a good home, even though it was a hard decision to make. She’s glad to gain us in her life.”

The adoption is expected to be formalized in six months.

Quest for a baby

The McCormicks, married in October 2015, began their quest to adopt in 2017. They chose the domestic infant track, meaning they wanted to adopt a baby between birth and 18 months, born in the United States, noted Cole.

They sought guidance through Lutheran Social Services as they completed the necessary paperwork, home studies, background checks and continuing education classes. They also created a portfolio to be distributed to expectant women considering adoption. In the summer of 2018, the McCormicks were self-matched through a mutual acquaintance with a soon-to-arrive baby boy in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Following the infant’s birth, the couple spent two days bonding with the baby in the hospital, only to be heartbroken when the birth mother changed her mind.

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The McCormicks returned home to Jackson, and the nursery that had been ready and waiting for the infant served as a reminder of what was lost.

For a time, they kept the door to the nursery closed.

Eventually, though, Jeanette began adding new items and changing things in the room. Hope had again returned that one day they would have a baby to call their own.

Twice more they had been told of possible matches, made travel plans and contacted church leadership in case plans were needed. Those, too, didn’t work out.

Then, the couple connected with the Sioux Falls-based Hughes Law Office, which specializes in adoptions, among other legal work. Four months ago, the adoption supervisor for Hughes contacted the McCormicks about an expectant mother in Salt Lake City who was interested in matching with them.

The initial contact between the birth mother and the McCormicks was through Facetime. It went well, and when the conversation ended, both confirmed the match. That initiated the months-long financial and legal process of adoption.

“It was a blur of sending paperwork and money and information,” Jeanette said. “Over that time we were building a relationship with the birth mother.”

Everything seemed to be going well, and the McCormicks were cautiously optimistic.

“We were making big decisions on our end, and so was the birth mother,” said Cole.

Making an adoption plan often comes with turmoil, heartache and questioning — on both sides. It also requires patience, understanding and acceptance that the birth mother will feel differently at various times during the process.

In early November, the birth mother called off the adoption. She told the McCormicks she was considering choosing another family. For Jeanette and Cole, it set off another round of heartbreak.

Four days later, however, the birth mother changed her mind and the adoption was back on track.

“Even with that, it was very uncertain,” Jeanette said. “We were going out there very uncertain that it was going to happen.”

The McCormicks remained in contact with the birth mother, primarily via text messages. Their first face-to-face meeting was in the hospital.

“When we traveled to Utah and got to know her more, I think she is someone who is extremely gifted and extremely talented,” Jeanette said. “She has had some hard knocks in her life.

“When you’ve gone through that much trauma, it’s easy to do things we can’t understand. I’m really grateful that in the end, she did go through the adoption.”

“It’s a humble and brave decision that they’re making,” added Cole.

Help and support

Landon’s birth mother checked herself into an outpatient drug rehab program following the baby’s arrival. The McCormicks hope the rehab program gets her the help she needs.

“She seems to have the desire to have this be a turning point,” Jeanette said. “We really hope she does. We want Landon to get to know her, and we want him to have a really positive relationship with her.

“We have come to know and love her, too, and we want a good life for her,” she added. “We hope we can be a part of making her life a little better, too. I think that’s the beauty of an open adoption — there is that opportunity for interaction, support and openness.”

Just as the birth mother finds the help and support she needs, the McCormicks are grateful for the support system that has surrounded them through the ups and downs during their entire process to adopt.

“I don’t think I would have kept down this adoption path if we didn’t have the amazing support system we had,” Jeanette said. “This process has not been without heartache.”

The McCormicks offered their thanks and appreciation to their family and friends, their church families, the ministerial association and synods, Love INC and the immigrant groups Jeanette is involved with.

“People have stepped up in the church and the community … and made me love First Lutheran and Worthington even more,” she said. “Trinity in Estherville has been extremely supportive and given Cole parental leave as well, so we’re both able to continue to serve our congregation.”

The McCormicks joined an adoption support group at Grace Community Church in Worthington last spring, and the information they have received from other parents has been a huge blessing, Jeanette noted. Through the common bond of adoption, the parents are able to offer guidance and support to each other.

Now that Landon is in his forever home with the McCormicks, the new parents are adjusting and enjoying the time with their son.

A lot is unknown about the potential for long-term impacts due to the drugs in his system at birth, but all signs currently show he is happy and in good health.

“We’ve done some extra medical visits and we will continue to watch that,” Jeanette said. “For learning and development, it’s really a matter of monitoring.

“Being aware of addiction will be important for him in his life, being that he’s already basically withdrawn from drugs,” she added. “We will be very thoughtful and proactive in that regard.”

What life may bring is always an unknown, but Landon will know he is loved — by the birth mother who loved him enough to place him for adoption, by the McCormicks who took him in with loving arms and by the church families who will welcome him as a child of God.

“We are grateful that Landon gets to be loved by two churches,” Jeanette said.

Related Topics: FAMILY
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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