Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 14, 2011 9:02PM

Taking Inventory

Rate: 16 Flag

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

_____ premature

_____ known drug abuse by mother

_____known drug abuse by father

_____ low birth weight

_____ African American

_____ Native American

_____ biracial

_____ no-known prenatal care

_____ asthmatic

_____ cystic fibrosis

_____ Fetal Alcohol Syndrome likely

______ deformities of limbs

_____ encephalitis

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

_____ Hysterectomy

_____ 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

_____ Old-fashioned

_____ Can’t throw anything away

_____ Balding and graying

_____ Ultra-conservative

_____ 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….

And yet….

My list would also include:

_____  a huge, willing, open heart

_____  20 years’ experience with children

_____ loves to laugh

_____ even-tempered

_____ would do anything for anybody

_____ deep belief that I would be a good mommy, no matter what

And Sean?

_____ makes up great bedtime stories

_____ funny

_____ generous

_____ 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.

 

 

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Comments

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I loved this.
I really enjoyed reading another's take on all the fears and misgivings those papers produce.
We have those papers sitting right here, having taken all those classes. Will we go further? Not sure, after over two years in (we chose the slow-as-molasses route). We were going through the adopting through foster system process, then income dropped dramatically this year.
We hope to be on track soon financially, not as sure mentally now.
We'll be re-visiting those oh-so-intimate questions as we continue to process this huge decision...
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very interesting and i enjoy it. I didn't that think like this before. And also i will follow your 20 years experience. Thanks for this post.
I was adopted privately in an age when the process was much simpler. If my young birth mother and my adoptive parents had to go through what you and Sean did, I might have languished in an agency home forever! Very insightful, well-written piece.
What a terrific piece of writing this is. I've written a bit before about how much I hated getting the question, "Why don't you just adopt?", as if it's so simple. I can only assume that those people have never been faced with such a decision.

I'm really glad it worked out for you, and I wish you all the best.
I agonized over this list too - and now 11 years after bringing our first child home, and a second in the interim, it is still one of the most vivid memories for me of the whole process. You summed it up perfectly. Thanks for sharing.
I remember these questions, even though it was over 12 years ago when we adopted our son. What really helped us was the social worker from the adoption agency *talked* to us about these questions and acknowledged how hard they were, and why they were important. So much better than just a checklist!
What a wonderfully written piece. My husband was adopted 36 years ago, and I think often of how much my in-laws wanted a child, and what they had to endure to bring him home. I'm sure they had some of the same questions and hopes, the same hesitations and fears.

We are pregnant with our first child now, and it is interesting that I am experiencing similar thoughts - what if our child has challenges that we struggle to accommodate and care for? What if we somehow fall short in the parenting arena? These questions bind all parents together, no matter how the family is formed.

Thanks for sharing such an honest and complete view of the process for your family. So many people think adoption is an "easy" option, and you have helped to shed light on how complex it really is.
This is a fabulous piece! I too am offended that race is considered a "condition" that a prospective parent must agree to accept. I love the way you list your "shortcomings" too. Rated!
I enjoyed this story. Im glad you had the guts to fill out that list and find your family!
Wonderful. Glad I got to it before the cover changed.
Beautifully told. I loved the checklists about you & your husband!