So Mary Tyler Dad and I are adopting. Yes, we surely are! I’ve been keeping it on the down low, so this is our official “coming out,” if you will. We are excited, nervous, tentative, joyful — a lot like we were at the prospect of the birth of our two gorgeous kids. But now, after our first visit with a prospective birth family, we need to add heartbroken to the list. The visit was so jarring and hard core, that I write this both for the opportunity to make some order out of chaos, but also to shed light on the bitter and cruel reality of so many of us in America.
Just four weeks ago, we got a call out of the blue that a birth family, out of state, was looking for the best family for their soon to be born child. Baby was due in October, but there was some distress in the family and the first family they had interviewed was not a good fit for them. They were working hard to locate another family that basically “fit” better. Were we interested in learning more? Why, yes, yes we were. BAH! Because we had recently switched adoption agencies (a long and boring story), we were early in the process of applications and preparing for licensure and home study. Our adoption counselor was supportive, though, and encouraged us to pursue and explore, confident that all the necessary hoops that adoptive families go through could be complete in time.
And oy freaking vey, some day I will share more about those hoops. But not today.
Looking back on this whirlwind four weeks, I am trying to make sense of the timeline and what happened when and how we missed what was so glaringly, patently, sock you in the gut obvious in our face-to-face visit. It is exhausting. Our first contact was with the birth grandmother, who was researching adoptions and looking for a family on behalf of her daughter, six months pregnant. Birth mom has another little one at home, a toddler boy, just 16 months old. She is 20. Later, we learned that this is her third child, the oldest is in the care of paternal grandparents. Birth dad is 30, unemployed, but actively with birth mom and in agreement that they simply can’t provide for another child at this time.
Birth grandmother was our main point of contact, but from the get go, communication was complicated. Sometimes I hate cell phones, especially in life and death situations. The cutting in and out while talking about the welfare of a child smacked of the same kind of life and death calls we used to have with our daughter’s oncologist. Those conversations should never be had on a cell phone. Truth.
What we could piece together in those first few days was that neither parent had a cell phone, the family was in great financial distress, they were living (together? apart? who knew?) in sub-standard housing with too many roommates, too many holes, and too many termites, and wanted to move to a safer location. All of that is not unusual in adoption. I mean, if you can care and provide for your kids financially, there is really no need to offer them up to another, is there? Living with that financial reality sucks, for both parties. You become, in effect, the haves and the have nots. They have a baby. They have no money. We have money. We have no baby. You see what I’m getting at? If you want a crash course in American poverty, go through the adoption process. It will wake your eyes up and fast.
Following advice of our counselor, we each arranged for attorneys that were local to the birth family. One for us, one for them. What we were told was that the attorney for the birth family would represent the interests and needs of them, while our attorney would do the same for us. The courts oversee all adoptions, private and public, so all of us were accountable to them. It seemed clear cut and simple. State law (mind you, each state is different) allowed for us to cover six months of pregnancy expenses and two months post-pregnancy. We were skeptical, of course, but assumed that once we were presented with their budget, we would know if this was a scam or not, a money making venture, the baby a commodity traded to the highest bidder. The truth is, you never know. You truly never know until a birth mom signs over her child after birth. It’s all a risk, a gamble. You go all in, and hope for the best.
The first plaintive text came six days after our first contact. They needed $ and they needed it fast. No milk for the baby. No food for the family. Mama needed a bra. This creates tension, confusion, fear. You don’t want $ to enter into this conversation, but of course, $ is at the crux of this conversation. They have none. They need some. After consulting some friends who have adopted and our attorney, it was decided and approved that we would wire some cash. A good faith effort on our part. An indication, that, yes, we are interested in moving forward and getting to know one another.
We had a few more conversations, each leaving me excited, hopeful. We learned the baby was a girl. We started talking names, tentatively. And there were signs — manufactured or not — they felt like good signs of good things to come. We learned of the baby the week of Donna’s birthday. The baby was due the week of Donna’s remembery. That’s a sign, right? The Universe is looking out for us! All was nerve wracking, but good. So very good.
There were some glitches, of course. The birth family could not make contact with their attorney quickly, as she was on vacation. Their first appointment was scheduled for August 7. While that made us nervous, we went ahead and purchased air tickets for a visit August 11-12. The week before, I got a text from birth mom asking that I have no contact with birth grandmom. Awkward, but understandable. It felt bad, as she had been my primary contact, but I felt like I had to respect her wishes. After that exchange, I heard nothing for almost a week. Radio silence. I texted and messaged, but had no response. We came to embrace the thought that this was not happening, not moving forward. Sadness. Emptiness.
And then, the day of the scheduled visit with her attorney, texts! The family in total had sat down with the lawyer and all was well. Oh, and they needed money. Fast. Could I wire some? I generally hate the metaphor of the emotional roller coaster, but damn, do I get it. Up, down, up, down, twists, turns, up, down. I have always hated roller coasters. They scare the brownies out of me. Elation to hear that the family was still interested in pursuing adoption, confusion and concern that they wanted money. Again.
We had naively and ignorantly thought that when the attorneys entered the picture, all the pesky things like budgets and legalities would be off our plate, leaving room to concentrate on getting to know one another. Except they didn’t seem too interested in getting to know us. I sent photos and a letter introducing our family. Yeah, no confirmation it was received, or questions about us. Of course not. They had no food or roof. How in the hell were they supposed to care that we value books and cultural opportunities for our little ones?
With approval from our attorney, we sent more money. The thought was that since we were moving forward, all of this would be accounted for with living expenses. No harm, no foul. A day later, I got another text from birth mom. She needed more money. Today. But not a lot, just a little, enough for an ID so she could pick up Moneygrams (?!?!) and transportation to the doctor. At first I ignored her request, hoping it would go away. Then I said no.
Me feeling pressured by these requests turned into our attorney feeling pressured by these requests, which would turn into her attorney feeling pressured by these requests. Or so I plotted, thinking that if the lawyers could simply get off their esquire asses, we could establish a budget, bring these repeated requests out on the table, get the family linked to much needed services, and I would stop feeling so oppressed by the gaping needs of this family I had come to care for in so short a time.