I have been wanting to share the following experience for some time now. I am hesitant because I don’t want to discourage anyone who is going through the adoption process, nor do I want to sound jaded though our experiences have been difficult. However, I also believe that the adoption system is, at times, broken and flawed in that there is absolutely no protection for adoptive parents. It is important to enter adoption with eyes wide open to both the possibilities and the limitations that exist. In this instance, I believe that knowledge is power and the more you are aware of the realities the better prepared you will be for every eventuality that may come. I would caution those who are considering the adoption process and have not had any experience with it yet; this will be tough to read. I will also ask that you remember that adoption can be a beautiful experience at times as evidenced by our two successful adoptions. If you’re new to my blog I would encourage you to read our boys’ stories here. Like all things in life there is a balance to be considered. While adoption can be an eye-opening and terribly heartbreaking experience there is also the opportunity for great love and happiness. With that said I will share one of the most difficult and painful times of my life in this post. Again, if you’re a regular reader you know that I have and continue to endure countless trials so you know that when I write this I don’t do so lightly. In the end, however, the lessons learned and the final adoption of our second son Alex prove that, through faith and patience in the Lord’s timing, indeed all things are possible including the healing of a shattered heart.
In January of 2007 our eldest son Sean turned 2 and we were ready to begin the expansion of our small family. To be fair, the adoption process with Sean left us more than a little naïve to the obstacles and hurdles that many experience. Because Sean was my sister’s biological son the process was relatively easy, logistically speaking. Emotionally, well that is another story… With our hopes held high we began to pray for guidance as we moved forward. We had heard that it could take many years, indeed sometimes up to 8 – 10 years before we might be chosen by a birth mother. It all depends on the agency you choose and, sadly, how much money you have to spend. We found out that babies of different ethnicities were different “prices.” This was shocking to me! How could you put a price on a baby and tie that price to the color of their skin? Are you surprised? Most people are when I tell them this. To give you an idea of how ridiculous this is, a Caucasian baby will cost you twice as much as an African-American baby. So in general a white baby is about $30,000 to $50,000 and a black baby is around $16,000. Who knew that the principles of supply and demand even applied to adoption? Sickening isn’t it… Add to this the adoptive mother’s who know how to work the situation and you have a tough system to navigate. Some, not all, but some birth mothers have been through the process so many times that they know that, if they find a couple desperate enough, they can ask for more money. How do they achieve this you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.
When you adopt a child the expense that I mentioned above is generally divided up in several different directions. First, you have to pay the agency fees. Depending on the agency this may or may not include the costs for your “home study.” Don’t worry, if you’re unfamiliar with this term, it will all make sense in time. Hang with me as we talk about the logistics first. Second, you are to support the birth mother throughout her pregnancy. Depending on the state where you live and the state where she resides this can include up to the following and sometimes much, much more: housing, clothing, food, utilities, the afore mentioned for any members of her family who are living with her (spouse and children), Dr’s bills, transportation to and from the Dr, gas, car payments, a cell phone so that she can be in contact with you, internet so that you can reach her by email, any counseling services she may be in need of etc… As adoptive parents you are on the line for these things for the duration of the pregnancy starting from the point at which you were chosen and often for a few months after the birth. So, if you happen to be chosen during her first trimester you are doing this for almost 9 months. Finally, the remainder of the funds goes to the mother after she has given birth and signed the child over to you. I’ve seen this sum listed no lower than about $4,000 and let me tell you that the sky is the limit on this final sum. It is usually negotiated between the mother and the agency so that the adoptive parents aren’t really part of that process. As the adopting couple you are told what the total sum is and you approve all of the cost of living expenses as they come but the final amount given to the mother is generally not discussed. After all of this you may or may not need to pay lawyer fees for the adoptive mother’s representation as well. This is IN ADDITION to your own fees for the lawyer representing you that are NOT included in the lump sum that the agency requires. Is your head spinning yet? Good, so is mine.
Wheh! I feel like a professor standing in front of a class, we’ll call it ADPT 2011. We skipped Adoption 101 because I feel like the general populace already has a pretty good handle on that class. Although, I will note that in case you are one of those who think that there are babies piling up in orphanages just waiting for a loving home, I hope I’ve shed some light on that lie. It isn’t that there aren’t babies who need families, or children stuck in the foster system, rather it is that obtaining those sweet souls is much more difficult than you can imagine. I digress; let’s get back to class shall we? There are adoption agencies that offer a subsidy program based on your income. However, lest you get really excited, achieving your goals through these agencies comes with emotional red-tape and often results in years and years of waiting. I’ll elaborate but in light of the sensitive nature of this post I will not be divulging the names of these agencies.
Greg and I are not made of money and though we had a tree in our back yard, the most we ever got from it was apricots. So we decided to try our luck with one of these agencies which subsidizes the cost based on a percentage of your income. At the time our income was very, very little and we were just beginning to deal with some of my chronic health issues. Though we had no idea where my health was headed in the end. I just thought I kept getting the flu, ha ha ha ha. It’s ok, laugh with me at the irony! To add to our hope we were told of a situation through someone Greg worked with that could potentially lead to a baby in our arms by February of 2007. We’ll talk about the adoption proceedings through this agency first, then I’ll tell you about the birth mother. Having a mother already on board with us, the agency worked to expedite our process.
The first item of business was to meet with a social worker. After our first meeting with our worker we were sent home with a stack, no a pile, nay a mountain of paperwork to be completed. We had to have our Dr sign off on our health condition. Again, we’ll take a moment to snicker at the irony here, my Dr’s were still clueless to what was really going on and so they signed me off without a second thought. We also were asked for our financial history, a personal history for each member of the family and questionnaires galore. The questions were a range of just about anything you can imagine including but not limited to our favorite foods, colors, books, and hobbies, how we liked to raise our children and what our real hair color was. You think this is a joke? Nope, they really wanted to know… In addition to this you’re asked to create a profile. This generally consists of pictures of your family, kind of like a scrap-book page. You have to fit as much as you possibly can onto two sides of an 8 1/2 x 11 in piece of paper. This needs to be engaging and encompass your life, as it is, as much as possible. If your profile page isn’t “eye-catching” enough than the birth mother isn’t likely to stop and read your full profile. I had no idea that I would need to lay my life out as an open book and then present it for judgment to whoever might want to consider us as potential parents.
By the time we finished our paperwork a week later we were emotionally spent. It is terrifying to think that the demographic of the birth mothers who typically worked through this agency would get to browse through our lives at will and then decide whether or not we were worthy of being parents. Quite frankly I found it demeaning that, likely a teenage girl, would be browsing through the intimate details of who I am and then tell me whether or not I could be a mother to her child. There has got to be a better way to approach this, truly! I mean Greg and I are no “Brad and Angelina.” As mentioned we didn’t have a lot of money, Greg worked as a computer tech… heck, let’s face it, we’re both nerds and I am no super-model. It is all very intimidating. I once asked “when do adopting mothers get to browse through birth mother profiles?” Our worker just gave me a blank stare as if I’d spoken a foreign language. Nope, that doesn’t happen. They scrutinize the adopting couple to the “nth” detail but the birth mothers are barely looked at. You have to rely on their honesty as to whether or not they’ve done drugs, drank alcohol, or generally abused your potential baby.
To add insult to injury I had to meet with the social worker and discuss my infertility in intimate details after which I was asked to demonstrate how I had come to terms with my infertility and why I felt that I was ready to adopt a baby. I kept reminding them that we had ALREADY adopted a child. To no avail; I was asked repeatedly if I was ready and if I felt that there were any unresolved emotional issues with my infertility. I hate this question; there will always be emotional fallout from my infertility. How do you honestly answer this question when you know that they want to hear that you’re over it and ready to move on? I felt like I needed more therapy to recover from that talk with our social worker than all of therapy I had already been through to actually come to terms with my inability to bear children. Frustrated yet? Just you wait. I warned you that reading this would be tough. At this point I will remind you that, though I probably sound jaded, I promise that there are times when this works.
Now that our paperwork and profile were completed which, to me, seemed like overkill; after all, we already had a mother on board so this seemed like an unnecessary hurdle. Oh well, as adopting parents you are held prisoner by the incessant need to “dot the i’s and cross the t’s.” The next step was to attend the agency’s mandatory adoption classes. These were held over a 4 week timeframe and would cover topics such as the finances, hearing the perspective of a birth mother, hearing the perspective of other adopting couples, and finally a class on the protocols of adopting a baby of a different race. These were a disaster. If I felt degraded by the process of sharing my personal life for judgment by strangers half my age, these classes presented an entirely new level of humiliation. In all fairness the course on finances proved to be helpful as they taught us how to navigate the taxes and be informed about where our money was actually going. Hearing the stories of the adoptive families was also very nice and they were sensitive and loving in sharing their experiences.
It was all downhill from there. The birth mother stood in front of a class of mothers desperate to adopt and actually said, “I just wish that you all could actually feel what it is like to have a baby. Too bad that will never happen for you.” I looked around the room wondering if anyone else was having the same visceral reaction to that statement that I was. Sure enough there were several others with their heads hanging down in tears. This young girl then proceeded to say, “When I was looking for a home for my baby I found the perfect couple. The mother was beautiful and they had a lot of money. I wasn’t about to pick some nerdy couple for my child…” I was aghast, I couldn’t believe my ears. Even the social workers overseeing the class looked uncomfortable at that point. We spoke with a few couples afterward and learned that our feelings of anguish and unease were indeed shared by many.
The next disaster occurred during the class where we were told that in order to adopt a black baby we would need to change our family culture. This is a very sensitive subject so in “Stina” style I’ll jump right in. I realize that the end goal of this class was to encourage us, a bunch of white couples, to adopt black babies. I’m sure they thought they were going to persuade us to be brave and embrace the challenges that come from adopting children of a different race. The end result? We endured an hour’s worth of a woman who stood and told us that white people were essentially incapable of taking care of babies of different races. We were too involved in “white” culture to understand what we were getting into and, “for ‘Pete’s sake’ can’t you learn how to do their hair properly?” Again the social workers were looking chagrined and uncomfortable. Instead of walking away feeling uplifted and confident, Greg and I left feeling inadequate and terribly unworthy.
Finally came the home study. If you thought you’d made your life an “open-book” before well… The social worker comes to your house and literally opens every drawer, all of your cabinets, goes through your closets, looks under your beds (seriously…) all over your yard, the outside of your house and so on… They are making sure that there isn’t anything that would pose a potential threat to a child. Most of this was easy since we’d already baby-proofed the house for Sean. I’ll also say that I agree with most of what they are looking for, safety first, don’t get me wrong. However, I also feel like this is sometimes taken to a place where it doesn’t need to go. Think about it. If every couple who gave birth to a baby was required to have a social worker rummage through their home and make sure it was “approved” before they could bring the baby home from the hospital… Well, let’s just say that according to the state’s standards 99% of these families would fail miserably.
The birth mother, we never did meet her. She was being held by the state as a minor who had been “in possession.” She was addicted to meth and so we were told to be prepared for a meth baby. Chances were she also drank so, again, they warned us that it was likely our baby would be born with fetal alcohol syndrome. It was a little girl and the birth father was one of three candidates; one was Caucasian and the other two were Hispanic. When asked if any of this bothered us we promptly stated that we would be ready. I called our pediatrician and spoke with him at length about all that we might be faced with. He was brutally honest and told me that the first several months would be extremely difficult as the baby wrestled with its own addiction to meth. The fetal alcohol syndrome was also a major concern that would have life-long consequences for our little girl. Greg and I felt that we were up to the challenge. With faith and a fair bit of excitement things seemed to progress quickly. The only missing piece was actually having a chance to meet the mother. This was not going to happen until the baby was born because of the mother’s circumstances. We had no doubt that a baby girl was forthcoming. We were told that the mother wasn’t interested in keeping her at all, in fact she had expressed the desire for an abortion early on but could never get it coordinated. We were so thankful that the baby’s life had been spared and we looked forward to welcoming her into the family.
The phone call came on a Friday in mid-February. We were told that as part of her rehabilitation program she had been able to earn certain privileges for “good behavior.” One of these privileges was the ability to go to her Dr appointments without her social worker. The devastating news that she had taken this opportunity to run away hit hard. In no uncertain terms they told us that she was expected to dump the baby and run, in fact she had expressed such a desire on many occasions. Unfortunately it was also explained to us that, even if we somehow discovered that this is what she had done, there was no way in which to match the little girl to us. She would immediately enter the foster system and the odds of us being able to adopt her were basically non-existent. We were distraught, it was a terrible feeling. To think that someone could hate their baby so much that she wouldn’t even allow her to be adopted. I asked if she had been raped thinking if this was the case maybe I could understand her frame of mind. In response the social worker sadly shook his head and said that as far they knew it was consensual between each of the three possible fathers and that sometimes the drugs cause these women to act in strange ways. My mind was spinning, even though this agency offered a more affordable option, we had still invested a lot of money, time, and, most importantly, emotion into the thought of bringing that little girl home in a few short weeks.
We fasted and prayed for this young mother and her baby. Through the tears and disappointment I begged God to help me understand why someone like her could “throw” her baby away while I ached for one of my own. I spent many nights on my knees, at first praying for a miracle and then, finally praying to accept His will. When I finally began to pray for acceptance is when the true miracle occurred. The pain was replaced with a profound feeling of peace. Through the following months Greg and I would pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and try again. With hope in our hearts we decided to find all of the agencies that would accept our home study (they aren’t always transferrable but they are expensive…) and put some of our eggs in a few other baskets. This took a great deal of faith because these agencies were much more expensive. We sought bank loans and began to look for ways to raise funds. In the mean time we were led to an agency in early May that did things a little differently. They were a breath of fresh air and for the first time I really began to feel optimistic about our chances. More on that later…