Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why adoption?

Before we were married, my wife and I had agreed that neither of us wanted children.  We married rather late in life, both of us have unpredictable and often stressful work schedules, and a child just didn’t seem to be in the cards.  Oh, we would cast the occasional envious glance at parents with their children; I recall very clearly hiking one day, seeing a father hiking with his little daughter, and thinking whistfully, “Well, wouldn’t that be a nice thing to do?” But we thought that our interactions with children would be limited to spoiling a handful of younger relatives and the children of close friends.

Then, one day, It Happened: my wife informed me that she wanted children.  The sun grew dark before my eyes and the earth opened beneath my feet.  The next thing that I can remember is lying in the back of the closet, sucking my thumb and crying.  But then I thought about it and realized that I was not ENTIRELY opposed to the idea.  At least, I thought, it wouldn’t hurt to look into it.

We found out very quickly that, for various reasons, we would not be having children the old-fashioned way.  My wife, however, had become increasingly determined that we WOULD have a child; my suggestion that we just get another dog was a non-starter.  We had no desire to go down the surrogate route, so adoption was really the only choice.

Problem solved?

Not hardly.

My understanding of adoption at the start of this process was pretty uncomplicated: one contacts the local social services agency, finds an orphan, fills out a bit of paperwork, and VOILA!  Instant family.  There are plenty of children who need homes, right?  It makes sense to get them into homes as quickly as possible, right?  Maybe not as quick and easy as getting a dog from the animal shelter, but still very straightforward, right?

Wrong.  Yes, there ARE plenty of children who need a family, but the process of connecting Child with Parents is far more difficult than I ever would have guessed.  The process is complicated because it is designed to protect the child, and I completely agree with it: it’s foolish and dangerous to hand over a child to just any couple.

So, we resigned ourselves to paperwork.  LOTS of paperwork.  But where to get the child?  We learned early on that domestic adoption would be very problematic.  Not only are there FAR more families waiting for children than there are children (at least, very young children), but also because US law does much to protect the birth parents, most domestic adoptions are “open”: the birth mother and adoptive parents are known to each other, the birth mother may even select the adoptive parents, and the birth mother may well choose to have some rights to be involved with her child’s life as he grows up.  Slim chance of getting a child?  Long wait?  Having the birth mother around?  Possibility that somebody – birth mother or father – might have a change of mind down the road and want the child back?

No, thank you.

This left overseas adoption.  Honestly, I was astounded at the requirements that some countries place on adoptive parents.  Quite aside from the obvious stipulation that the adoptive parents have the means and moral character to take care of a child, some countries have mandates regarding age, length of marriage, and even BMI (!).  There are requirements for the parents to make multiple trips to the birth country and / or stay there for weeks – perhaps months – with the child before returning to the United States.  Then there was still the wait: depending on the child’s country of origin, the parents might have to wait for years to be matched and bring their child home.

We were beginning to think that being parents simply wasn’t meant to be.  Then we were told about the China Special Needs program.  China has been adopting children to the United States for a couple of decades now: the system is well-established, reliable, doesn’t have any requirements that we couldn’t meet, and doesn’t require prolonged or multiple trips to the birth country.  However, I confess that we were both leery of the term “special needs”: we didn’t feel comfortable taking care of a badly handicapped child.  However, we were quickly told that “special needs” has a much broader definition in this case than what we were accustomed to.  It certainly CAN include children who are badly handicapped, but can also include children who have medical conditions that are easily correctable / treatable in the United States or are simply “too old” to be readily adopted (most people, like us, are more interested in infants or toddlers than in older children).  We were given a checklist of medical conditions, which included such things as asthma, some degree of vision or hearing loss, Down’s Syndrome, missing limb, extra finger, etc.  Completing this form – deciding what we would and wouldn’t accept – was a quick spin through medical school: what is “atresia”?  What is “ASD”?  And, “My God: people can be born with that AND SURVIVE???”

We did the paperwork fandango.  We filled out forms.  We were interviewed.  We got family and friends to fill out forms.  We had medical checkups and police background checks.  And we waited and prayed and wondered.

And then I found out just what a b*****d I am.

I will not go into detail, but suffice it to say that it is possible to refuse a match.  And we did.  We were offered children with (shall we say?) highly unusual special needs and, after research and consultations with doctors… we said no.  We said “no” to a child.  I have seldom felt so disgusted with myself.  It doesn’t help that other adoptive parents told us that they’d made similar decisions for similar reasons.  It doesn’t help that people say that we made the right choice.  It doesn’t help that people tell us that “you can’t save them all”.**

It doesn’t help at all.

Now here we are: we’re matched with a beautiful little girl and (we think) we’re only a few months away from going to bring her home.  She’ll need some surgery and maybe a little therapy when she comes home with perhaps more in years to come, but she otherwise seems healthy and happy.  It’s been a long journey so far, and there are more milestones to pass.  But, as I think about her, I know that she is my daughter just as surely as if she carried my DNA*.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


(*) I made the mistake of quoting – in jest – George Bernard Shaw: “Ah, but Madame, what if the child should have MY looks and YOUR brains?” to my wife.  She was not amused.  Some people really have no sense of humor.

(**) From time to time, I read about or hear adoption described as some sort of rescue mission, as if the parents are saving the child.  This is not how my wife and I see it.  The good Lord – and I have to assume that He knows what He is doing – is BLESSING us with a child. 

For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him.

--- I Samuel 1:27

Thanks be to God.

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