A global pandemic may have the power to derail our jobs, schools, social lives and plans of any kind, but it’s comforting to know that it can’t stop this: the permanence of family.
Laura and Casey Wieck had been waiting six jittery months to finalize the adoption of their son, James, when the coronavirus crisis began unraveling everything. Their jitters magnified as they watched their county’s courts close to the public. How long would their adoption hearing be postponed?
“There’s always this thing hanging over your shoulder: What if this doesn’t happen? What if something goes wrong?” Laura Wieck, 40, of Columbus, Ohio, told TODAY Parents. “You just want to get to that point to where everything is finalized and legal. That unknown and that waiting — you feel it.”
When the Wiecks were feeling especially low, a clerk from Greene County Probate Court called them with an unexpected possibility: Would they like to move forward with their adoption by videoconferencing with the judge on Zoom?
“We’re affectionately referring to it as ‘cyber court,’” Judge Thomas O’Diam told TODAY Parents. “My clerks are all at their individual houses working remotely. ... It just makes us feel good that we’re able to continue and give some sense of normalcy to people when it seems like nothing else is normal.”
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The Wiecks’ adoption on Tuesday was the third handled remotely by O’Diam and one of five he presided over the same day. Other courts across the country have been shifting their entire operations online in order to keep adoption hearings, guardianship hearings and other crucial family proceedings moving along despite the need for social distancing.
About 30 minutes before their Tuesday morning hearing, the Wiecks got the official OK to share the Zoom link with family members who wanted to witness the big moment. They frantically called their parents and siblings and told them to get ready.
The Wiecks got dressed up in their Sunday best; 6-month-old James wore a dapper little dress shirt and vest.
“His belly’s getting big and it was popping out, and he was a little fussy that day because it was his naptime, but he was still so dang cute,” Laura Wieck said. “When we logged on, Casey’s parents and one of his sisters were already on there talking to the judge, chitchatting, hanging out!”
Baby James cooed, drooled and squirmed throughout the Zoom call as his parents deftly handed him an assortment of teething toys and stuffed animals. Finally, it was time.
“Once I sign these papers, which I’m doing right now,” the judge said, “he is officially your son.”
“YAYYYY!” the Wiecks said in unison as they bounced baby James up and down in front of the camera.
The Wiecks’ adoption of James was arranged by Adoption Link Inc., an Ohio agency that specializes in open adoptions. In the Wiecks’ case, that means James always will know who his birth mother is and will see her in person at least twice a year.
“We want children to feel like they have a complete understanding of their whole lives,” Naomi Ewald, founder and director of Adoption Link, told TODAY Parents. “This way they know that they are definitely wanted, and their birth mother made a very loving, conscious, caring choice for them.”
James’ birth mother opted to allow Laura Wieck to be present at James’ birth while dad-to-be Casey Wieck waited right outside the door.
“She said that when the baby came out, he could come into our arms,” Laura Wieck said. “That was part of her birth plan.”
As soon as James arrived, Casey Wieck joined his wife in the room. Laura Wieck cut the umbilical cord. Together, the couple held the newborn baby and stared at him in awe.
“It was pretty magical,” she said. “From the very first moment, he was our son.”
James’ birth was especially gratifying for the Wiecks, who had spent nearly eight years trying to have a child with the help of fertility treatments.
“We are just so grateful to James’ birth mom that she made this choice,” Laura Wieck said, “She made it consciously, and she made it in the best interest of James. She is probably one of the strongest women I have ever met.”
The Wiecks brought their baby boy home from the hospital but had to wait to share news of his arrival publicly until his adoption was finalized.
“It was just such a big relief I think when Tuesday finally came,” Casey Wieck, 37, told TODAY Parents. “We had been waiting for a child for so many years.”
As soon as Tuesday morning’s hearing was completed, the Wiecks took to social media to let their friends know that they had become parents six months ago. The news spread even faster on Wednesday when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine described James’ joyful Zoom adoption hearing at a press conference.
“Talk about how to make an announcement!” Laura Wieck said with a laugh.
As soon as social distancing requirements end, the Wiecks plan to bring baby James to Judge O’Diam’s courtroom in person. O’Diam said he can't wait to invite the family up to the bench to pose for photos and let baby James bang the gavel.
O’Diam said he's also hoping to make Zoom videoconferencing an ongoing feature in his courtroom so that out-of-town family members can watch adoption hearings and cry happy tears in real time.
“It is the most heartwarming experience you could ever have,” the judge said.