Does the word “buy” offend you? Then don’t adopt, because you would be offended often. Adoption, at its core, is a business transaction. It shouldn’t be, but it is. You will pay for lawyers, counselors, doctors, and legal assistants. You will pay for the homestudy, paperwork, fingerprinting, licenses, travel expenses, filing costs, courtroom costs, and postage. You might also pay for background checks, a private detective (if you’re smart), psychologists, psychiatrists, the birthmother’s housing expenses during pregnancy and six weeks after, a mediator, and a breast pump. (She didn’t like the one the hospital had.)
In my case, I also bought a lot of new shoes and a lot of Chardonnay. My husband spent a ton on detective novels and golf. Don’t underestimate the cost of these coping mechanisms. Over the two or three years that it typically takes to adopt, you will need all of your little crutches.
For adoption crushes you. It bleeds you. You will be interrogated about everything – and I do mean everything. Our caseworker asked about our sex life, including how many times a week we had intercourse, and if we practiced “normal” behaviors. He also asked about our religious beliefs and political views. We were quizzed on our feelings about race and ethnicity, as we indicated on every form that we weren’t just interested in adopting a “white, American-born” child.
I will absolutely never forget the time a caseworker asked a group of us sitting in a foster parenting class, “How would you feel if your child marries a black person, and in a few generations, your entire family tree is black?” Looking back on that now, I wish I had gotten up and walked out. I wish I had pursued getting her fired. But I was desperate for a baby. I stayed and just quietly decided that one day, one day, I would write about her asinine question and ridicule her for it.
Adoption forces you to squelch many a comment, many a tirade, and many an injustice. You are splayed open, and your life is dissected by the adoption agency, legal system, and birthparents. You are judged and evaluated and often found lacking.
I will never forget one time when the caseworker came over for a “surprise” visit, and I had just come out of the shower. I hadn’t put on a bra since it was evening, and the caseworker actually asked if my husband and I would walk about in states of “undress” in front of children. She raised her eyebrows at me, and I flushed deep red.
Shame and embarrassment were part and parcel of the process. I vividly remember the close scrutiny of our bank statements. The state requires a year’s worth of statements to be filed with the agency, and we borrowed money from my parents so that our balance never went below $1000. I literally held my breath when the agency’s director combed through those statements. Was one grand enough?
I remember cleaning the house constantly, preparing for the caseworker’s visits, and feeling so inadequate that we didn’t have a bigger tv, a leather couch, or a modern playset in the backyard. My husband and I argued endlessly over whether to buy that playset. He wanted to wait until we got a child. I thought it would help convince the caseworker and the birthparents that we were ready for a child.
I agonized over the portfolio of pictures and text that would go to prospective birthparents. I spent hours going through pictures, looking for just the right ones that would show us as young and fun, but also mature and reliable. I scrutinized those photos so closely; I remember feeling bad that I hadn’t worn my retainer more. Would a birthparent see my crooked bottom teeth and think we wouldn’t buy braces for their child?
And what do you write, really, what do you say to convince a woman and man to give you their child? “Please, please pick me? I’m a good person, really I am. Can I have your baby?”
Am I embellishing this? Not one bit. In fact, I don’t think that I am describing the invasion that is adoption, well enough. The adoption process is gut-clenching and soul wrenching. To think that other people could “get” a baby by simply having sex, was downright hilarious to me. Sometimes.
The state got to sift through our lives for three years before they “granted” us a child. I had never before and most certainly never since, felt so vulnerable. For there is no guarantee that you will be “chosen.” I know of many couples who gave up after a few years of this madness. Many of my friends who adopted one child would love to have another one, but they simply cannot afford – or endure – the process again.
I am sure that you would like me to end this by saying, “But it was all worth it, now that I am Johnny’s and Jill’s mother.” And of course, it is. But really, does it have to be this way? Must adoptive parents be so humiliated by the process time and time again? Must we be exposed so publicly? Must our lives be scrubbed so raw?
I call for change. I cry for change. I am writing this for change.