Posts in the Adoption Category

This Is What It’s Like

Published 11 years, 6 months past

“So tell me — why do you deserve to be a parent?”

There are a lot of things that go through your head at that moment.  You think that maybe you should be offended, but then remember all the times you asked potential hires why you should give them the position.  You think about everything you’ve done and been through just to get to this point, the paperwork and training and classes and inspections and certifications, wondering how all that time and energy and expense could go unnoticed even as you realize it wasn’t.  It wasn’t overlooked.  She knows about all that; this is something else.  This is a character-divination exercise, just the latest in a very long series of hurdles, this one smaller than most, but a hurdle that has to be cleared all the same.

Because the basically cheerful, kindly woman sitting across the coffeeshop table from you holds your future in her hands.  She can decide that you are not fit to be a parent.  That power is hers.

You’ve gotten to know her over the previous months, through all the meetings and home inspections, and don’t think for an instant that she would turn you down capriciously or out of anything but a deep, genuine concern.  She’s not out to get you, or stop you, or hurt you.  She wants to help.  It’s up to you to not screw it up.

Which is why you pause for a moment to consider your answer, not because you haven’t thought about this exact question and your answer to it a thousand times before, but because you don’t want to screw this up.

This is what it’s like to adopt.

In that moment of pause, a lot of impressions flood in.  You don’t think about things, don’t remember events like a movie, but you feel all of their impressions on your life.

You recall deciding to stop using birth control, and the year of trying to get pregnant, using what is in effect the inverse rhythm method, and fittingly enough you got the opposite of the usual result.  You recall the fertility consultations, the blood draws and testing and the sample bottle that you need to fill no matter how sterile and cold and impersonal the little room might be, because as soon as you do then the doctor can take your issue and put it into a contraption that will be inserted right up into your wife so the sperm are deposited exactly where they have the best chance of meeting up with an egg and doing their thing.  With you holding her hand the whole time.  You recall the elective surgeries to correct discovered conditions that turn out, in the end, to have no positive effect.  You recall every one of the times the lab called to congratulate you on successful conception, and every one of the times the lab called a few days later to tell you that the pregnancy had failed, and how you learned that there are far, far more conceptions than there are pregnancies, even among those who aren’t undergoing fertility treatment.  You recall finding out that your only hope of pregnancy was IVF, and even that was a long shot, not to mention medically inadvisable when you looked at it dispassionately, as if such a thing were possible.

You recall deciding together that being pregnant was not nearly as important to you as being parents.

This is what it’s like to adopt.

You recall the Fire Marshall telling you that your house’s wiring needed to be upgraded and you needed to post floor-by-floor fire evacuation maps — in your compact, center-hall Colonial, only-one-staircase house — before he could sign off on your form, the form you needed to be signed so you could proceed.  You recall pressing your fingers into the fingerprint scanner so that the FBI could look into your background and declare your lack of criminality, so far as they knew, so you could proceed.

You recall sitting in the infant/child CPR class, looking at the other couples, some of them obviously well along in their pregnancies and others with no signs at all, you the only single person because your wife’s professional training already covers this stuff, wondering if any of them are hoping to adopt but not sure how to bring it up without looking like you’re trying to be a show-off or something.

You recall handing over more financial data than was required the last time you bought a house, which was the only time you bought a house, because you skipped the whole “starter home” thing and saved until you could buy the right house, the one with the huge front porch for summer dinner parties and the fireplace for winter evening cuddles and the bedrooms all about the same size so your someday children wouldn’t get into fights over who got stuck with the tiny room.  You also recall knowing that one day they would fight about it anyway, because someone would bust out a tape measure and complain that they’d been shorted by eight square feet, and you couldn’t wait for that day.

You recall the agony of filling out your medical/social profile, twenty draining pages of research and prejudgment and soul-searching, asking yourself what you thought you could or could not accept in a newborn baby and its parents and their parents and relatives and asking yourself who you were to judge another life, and then remembering that if you hoped to be parents you’d better be ready to judge all the time, not angrily, but fairly and compassionately and (if at all possible) wisely.  But you still had to finish this form, even though it felt like passing judgment on all the possibilities yet to be, because it had to be finished before you could proceed.

You recall wishing you could be angry about all the barriers and hurdles and hoops, all these things standing in the way of two people who wanted so much to raise a family, but understanding and accepting the reasons for all of them.  You analyze conceptual systems by trade, pull apart ideas and specifications to see how the pieces work, spend lots of time figuring out the why as well as the how, and that’s how you can see all too clearly why all these trials exist.  It is a grave responsibility to be a parent, and a graver responsibility for a third party to approve the transfer of a tiny, helpless, utterly dependent baby into a household of strangers.  If the state and its designated agents are to be party to that transfer, then they are responsible for doing all that they can to ensure that the transfer is made to good, decent people who can provide all the kinds of nourishment a new life needs.

And so all the things you ever thought potential parents should be tested on before they’re allowed to reproduce, as you shake your head at some obvious example of terrible, terrible parenting, forgetting for a moment that everyone has bad days and that you don’t know the first thing about those people and their lives and histories, all those things you’ve thought should be part of the Are You Fit To Be A Parent Test are all placed in front of you now, and twice as much more that had never occurred to you, all standing between you and the someday family you decided to create.

You recall them all, all the weight of all those challenges, and you look her in the eye and draw in your breath to answer.

This is what it’s like to adopt.

After the interview is over, you chat for a bit and then go your separate ways.  Soon you will finish up the last pieces of paperwork, send in your finished profile, and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And then one day, out of the blue, the phone rings and a frenzied chain of events are instantly set into motion, tying up loose ends and postponing appointments and deciding who to tell and making sure you have absolutely everything you need, because eighty hours after that phone call you are nestling a tiny, trusting, utterly exquisite baby to your chest and listening to it breathe, feeling its weight and warmth against you, your head still spinning from the uproar of the past few days and at the same time suddenly spinning the other direction because it hits you, with all the force of a newborn’s scent and all the piercing of a newborn’s cry, that you are holding your future in your hands.

This is what it’s like to adopt.

To be a parent.

Adoption Day

Published 12 years, 9 months past

Yesterday morning, in a small office on the second floor of the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, Kat and Carolyn and Rebecca and I finalized our adoption of Joshua. There were a few witnesses to this: the social worker who has handled our case from the outset, as she did Carolyn’s; the lawyer who made sure all of our paperwork was correct; my sister and father and stepmother; our friends Gini and Ferrett and Jim; and the magistrate who conducted the proceedings.

As with Carolyn and Rebecca, I haven’t talked about Joshua being adopted — not that it was any big secret, given our having adopted our other children.  Nevertheless, I did this for the same old reasons: for the past seven months, we’ve been borrowing him from his legal guardians, the adoption agency.  The usual monthly checkups from our social worker still occurred, and there was still the theoretical possibility of Joshua’s placement being revoked for any reason whatsoever.  Or even for no reason at all.  I had no way to know if a blog post might somehow make things more difficult, so I left it alone.

All this was always a basically theoretical possibility — there was no real fear of it actually happening — but now, even the theory is undone.  Joshua is now legally our son and the girls’ brother just as completely as he has long been both in our hearts.  He is now ours — but even more than that, and far more importantly, we are now his.

Over a celebratory lunch, Kat held our sleeping son in her arms and I cradled his head with my hand as we whispered our love for him, for our girls, and for each other.

Adoption Day

Published 15 years, 5 months past

Yesterday afternoon, in a small office on the second floor of the Cuyahoga County Courthouse in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, Kat and Carolyn and I finalized our adoption of Rebecca.  There were a few witnesses to this: the social worker who has handled our case from the outset, as she did Carolyn’s; the lawyer who made sure all of our paperwork was correct; our friends Gini and Ferrett; and the magistrate who conducted the proceedings.

As I did with Carolyn, I’ve avoided mention of Rebecca’s being adopted, though anyone who’s been reading the site for the last several years would probably have inferred it from the fact that Carolyn was adopted.  And as with Carolyn, I avoided saying anything because the adoption wasn’t legally final until yesterday.  Up to that point, we were borrowing her from the agency, as it were: they were her legal guardians.  It was possible at any point for the agency to remove her from our home.  In the strictest legal sense, they didn’t even need a reason to do so.  Ditto the state.  Had we missed one of the six monthly post-placement meetings with our social worker, for example, or even not met the required schedule, custody would have been revoked.

Now, of course, that’s no longer possible.  Now she is ours as legally as she has been emotionally, now judicially recognized as the part of our family she’s long since become.  It was her sister who made it official: the magistrate had Carolyn stamp the legal decrees, so that it was she who made the adoption permanent and binding.  Most of the witnesses choked back tears.  I felt a few eye-prickles myself, but suppressed them to make sure I got the pictures I hope both girls will cherish as they grow older.

After a celebratory dinner with friends, as we got ready for bedtime, I took Rebecca into my arms and whispered, “Welcome to our family, little one.  Again.  And forever.”

Radio Waving

Published 17 years, 1 week past

If you happened to be listening to “The Diane Rehm Show” yesterday and caught the segment with Barbara Bisantz Raymond, author of “The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption“, I was “Eric from Cleveland”.  There was more I wanted to say, especially concerning our particular adoption agency and how they deal with openness, but as soon as they said “Very good question, Eric; Barbara?” I was cut off and had to download the podcast to hear her answer.

I’d love to have a chance to talk to Ms. Raymond at length, because she seems to have a different view of adoption than we do.  Also because, as she said, she lived in Cleveland when she adopted, and I’d be fascinated to hear how her experience differed from ours.  For that matter, I’m now a lot more interested in the history and current practice of adoption.  I never really thought about the origins of the current system, simply accepting it as How It Is And Always Was.  An odd failing for a history major, to be sure.

Let me tell you something, though.  I have never been as nervous and scared on a conference stage as I was on that call.  My voice almost locked up twice.

Adoption Day

Published 20 years, 6 days past

Yesterday afternoon, in a small court room on the twenty-second floor of the Franklin County Courthouse in downtown Columbus, Ohio, Kat and I legally finalized our adoption of Carolyn.  There were just two witnesses to this event: the legal representative for the adoption agency, and the magistrate who conducted the proceedings.  The entire proceeding was recorded using a PC to digitally capture the audio, which I thought was rather advanced for a government agency.

To get to the courthouse, we drove two and a half hours through bursts of rain and heavy interstate traffic.  The hearing took less than twenty minutes.  After taking some pictures with the magistrate, we drove back to Cleveland.  After an hour or so to rest, we celebrated this milestone yesterday evening at our favorite restaurant, Matsu, with a small gathering of friends.  For the first time in my life, I ordered a Big Boat o’ Sushi (I’ve always wanted to do that), and with the help of everyone at the table the decks were pretty well cleared.

Until now, I haven’t said anything here about Carolyn being adopted, although it might have been possible to infer it by reading very closely between the lines of some early posts.  To a large degree, this silence was dictated because the adoption wasn’t legally complete.  In a legal sense, we were just borrowing her from the adoption agency on a six-month trial basis.  During that time, we were regularly visited by a social worker who, I assume, was making sure that all was well, that she was thriving both physically and mentally, and that we hadn’t done anything that might be considered unsafe, such as setting up a crystal meth lab in the kitchen or acquiring a pet grizzly bear or something.

Where it truly matters, of course, things haven’t really changed.  Our love for Carolyn is as deep today as it was yesterday—maybe a little deeper, because as every day goes by it seems that we love her (and each other) a little bit more.  All that happened in Columbus yesterday was that the state officially and irretrievably recognized what was already true: Kat, Carolyn, and I are a family, with everything that implies.  We will share joys and sorrows, work together and play together, overcome obstacles and support each other.  We will love each other for the rest of our lives.

I’m not sure what I did to be granted such a wonderful daughter and wife, but whatever it was, it must have been really, really good.

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