Adoption is big business. Once we started calling agencies and lawyers, we found that we were coveted clients. Brochures, videos, and endless forms came pouring in. I tried to keep up with it by filling out one form a day. But soon, pages – and to me, each one represented a potential child – became disheveled and haphazard. I had to organize it all. I bought a huge binder to keep all the information in. However, as I began filing, the paper mill’s logo started bothering me. This was my baby, my future; this folder was my pregnancy, so to speak. I wanted it to be prettier and more special. I wanted it to reflect the mother I was going to be.
So one day, I decided to decorate the binder. I cut out a picture from the cover of one brochure. It was a little Chinese girl, with straight, long bangs almost covering her almond-shaped eyes. Her mouth was almost smiling, but not quite, as if she was perfectly aware that an adoption would take her thousands of miles from her home. But that little face called to me. I cut out another picture, a little girl in jeans. Her toes were chubby and pink. She was wearing a yellow, flowered hat, and her hands were poised, as if she were going to clap. I could hear that clap. I could hear her squeal. I kept cutting out words, Home, Waiting, Love, Bring, Lifetime. I took all the pieces and began gluing them to the binder, overlapping corners and hiding jagged edges, working it into a soft collage. Words and eyes and fat baby arms reached out to me.
I kept that folder with me all the time, even taking it to work, tucked behind bundles of papers to grade. Every time I felt a pang of babylessness, I’d sneak a look at the collage and feel the possibility, the probability, that we would adopt, and she or he, little and lovely, was there, waiting for me. Finally, I felt hope. Plans were being made. With every form filled out – which asked everything from “What kind of discipline approach will you use?” to “How many times a week do you have sex?” --the invitation was sent. Our child was accepted and expected. She or he just had to appear.
“Do you want a girl or a boy? Explain the reason for your preference, if any,” the forms asked. Heck, we would have taken a girl, a boy, twins, triplets, (and we did draw a line there, but with reluctance) but ANY child was fine with us.
Or was it?
Next came an inventory, asking what “conditions” we would accept in a child. What seemed inane and a waste of time at first, became an agonizing process of self-examination. The lists looked something like this:
Place a check mark by any condition that a child might have that you would be ABLE to accept and parent successfully:
_____ hearing impairment
_____ visual impairment
_____ drug addicted baby
_____ cleft palette
_____ spina bifida
_____ known drug abuse by mother
_____known drug abuse by father
_____ low birth weight
_____ African American
_____ Native American
_____ no-known prenatal care
_____ cystic fibrosis
_____ Fetal Alcohol Syndrome likely
______ deformities of limbs
A long list, organized into some unknown hierarchy of potential and real problems. How could we decide what we could accept? The potential needs and problems and costs were impossible to imagine. And insulting. Why was being black, biracial, or Native American a “condition?” Who made this list? What did it mean if I didn’t put yes, and couldn’t accept this or that condition?
Sean and I talked endlessly about it. Finally we decided to copy the list, and then each of us would put our own checkmarks beside what we felt that we could handle. After that, we would combine our lists and discuss any disparities.
Still, I wrestled with the process. Finally, I closed my eyes after reading each one, and tried to see if I could envision myself with that child. On some of them, I could. On some of them, I couldn’t. Low birth weight -- I was afraid it meant a lifetime of sleep monitors with alarms, asthma, and breathing problems. God, I would panic every single night. I would sleep next to the crib, listening for breath sounds. I felt my palms begin to sweat just thinking about it. I didn’t put a checkmark there.
But I felt guilty and exposed. “Regular” parents – the ones who gave birth - didn’t get to choose what they would and would not accept. Who came up with this idea? I wondered if children should also get a list.
What would YOU accept in a potential parent?
What would our child have to put up with? My list would certainly be long and embarrassing:
_____ Vision problems
_____ Hearing problems
_____ Loves naps
_____ Doesn’t like to cook
_____ Shopping addiction
_____ Loud laugh
_____ Slight overbite
_____ Stringy hair
_____ One ugly toe
_____ Age spots on hands
_____ Small breasted
_____ Big hipped
_____ Subject to cleaning “fits”
_____ Irregular bill paying habits
_____ Small, ugly ranch house
_____ One big, hairy, dog
_____ One little, crazed cat
And Sean, his list would be almost as bad:
_____ Works a lot of overtime
_____ Addicted to the TV when stressed
_____ Can’t throw anything away
_____ Balding and graying
_____ Meticulous about toothbrushing, flossing, and mouthwash
_____ That same small, ugly ranch house
Good god. What child, when faced with that inventory, would choose all that? I think I felt most guilty about the little house and loving naps. I envisioned other prospective parents’ with two-story, modern houses, big and spotless, with gargantuan play sets in the backyard. The prospective mother loved gardening and gourmet cooking. She never took a nap. The father was a banker who wanted to coach Little League. I didn’t see how we would ever get a child….
My list would also include:
_____ a huge, willing, open heart
_____ 20 years’ experience with children
_____ loves to laugh
_____ would do anything for anybody
_____ deep belief that I would be a good mommy, no matter what
_____ makes up great bedtime stories
_____ everyone’s favorite uncle
_____ absolutely rock solid in an emergency
_____ loyal to a fault
_____ would be a great daddy, no matter what
It was true. I would be a good mommy. And I knew it. I completed the inventory quickly, checking almost every category and then asked Sean for his list. I smiled. He had checked the very same ones. Perhaps this didn’t have be so hard.
The next task was to create a portfolio, describing ourselves with words and pictures in a five page or less (no exceptions), that would be presented to birth mothers and fathers who wanted to place a child for adoption.
I wasn’t into scrapbooking, like so many of my friends. The task intimidated me for awhile. The first step was to take a picture of the house. I went outside and stood in the front yard. I knew that real estate companies took pictures of small houses from the side, so the house looked longer and bigger. I moved into the neighbor’s yard so I could get the best vantage point. Then I adjusted the view finder so that the bare spot in the yard where the dog scratched didn’t show. Then I snapped the picture.
I went inside and told Sean that we needed a family portrait.
He laughed and said, “We don’t have a family. That’s why we’re adopting.”
“Well, if we ever want to get a child, we need a picture. So get up.”
He sighed and stood, tucked in his shirt, and wiped his hair away from his forehead.
“Shouldn’t I shave first?” he asked.
“Nah, it’s in style now to be stubbled.”
“Whatever,” he said. “C’mere Roscoe.” He grabbed our dog by the collar and lifted him up in his arms. Roscoe’s tail wagged.
“That will be cute,” I laughed, as I fixed the camera’s self-timer. I went to stand beside him, and our cat, Tigger, walked around the corner.
“C’mere Tiggy,” I said. “You can be in the photo, too. See, we do have a family,” I said to Sean.
“A very furry one,” he answered.
I laughed, throwing back my hair, and the flash went off.
When I look at that picture now, ten years and two adopted children later, our smiles look forced.