Adoption 101: Final Exam

The response to our adoption story has been completely unexpected and surprising to Mary Tyler Dad and I.  Over 30K page views for MTM posts in just three days.  We are grateful for the support and encouragement, welcome the questions, and understand some of the criticism that has come our way.  And this, my friends, is why I opted to write about our experience.

As we were driving away from the town where we met the birth family, as I wept and traded texts with a friend, trying to make sense of what we had just seen and heard, there was a resolve to tell the story of adoption.  What happens, how it happens, the highs and lows (literally and figuratively, natch) of such a complex process.

In the first entry I wrote about my need to give order to chaos, but Adoption 101 has also been about shedding light on a part of America that so many of us do not see.  Poverty, addiction, and abuse are invisible to many.  Some might say that is a blessing, I personally feel it is a shame.  A few commenters felt there was too much judgment attached to the birth family.  I worked hard to simply tell the story as it unfolded.  No doubt, some of my anger, sadness, and simple sense of feeling wrung out to dry found itself in my words, and for that I am sorry.

Mary Tyler Dad suggested I wait a week before writing, but we all know how that went.  The keyboard is my greatest confidant, writing is my solace.  When I need to write, I write.  I am still amazed that you want to read.

Many of you have been moved to share your own stories of adoption — being adopted, having placed your child for adoption, being adoptive parents yourself.  And gratefully, so gratefully, we are learning how unique this past weekend was.  Someone chided me for titling this series Adoption 101, feeling it was misleading and would scare others researching adoption for themselves.  I don’t know what to say to that other than this experience has been our Adoption 101.  We will learn much from the past month as we continue to search for our child.  And the certainty we feel, Mary Tyler Dad and I, that if prospective adoptive parents are scared away by poverty, addiction, and abuse, than perhaps adoption was not in the cards for them.

We first talked about adopting in the fall of 2007.  In the midst of Donna’s treatment, as she was being prepped for her stem cell transplant, we were informed, sitting across a conference table from two of our docs, that the treatment Donna had received and would continue to receive, the toxic chemotherapies we hoped would save her, would prevent her from ever having children.  That was wrenching and made me so sad to know that Donna would never get to feel the kick of a child, her baby, inside of her.

There are so many losses in cancer that are also invisible.

I started thinking about the need to educate Donna, to normalize for her the reality that giving birth does not make one a mother.  Families are made in many different ways.  In the spirit of choosing hope, we wanted Donna to grow up with a sibling that would feel as much a part of her as her biological brother, so that if she grew to adulthood and chose motherhood, she would know adoption.  The course of Donna’s illness and the arrival of her brother made adoption impossible a few years ago.  And full disclosure, there have been four miscarriages along the way, three in the eighteen months after Donna died.

It is fitting that Donna brought us to adoption.  She has brought so many of the good things I value into my life.

But now it is Mary Tyler Son we want a sibling for — he was born a brother, feels like a brother, envies the siblings of his friends and cousins.

Like many folks we know, we came to parenthood late.  Contrary to every fear and concern I had, I am a good mom.  Not only did I have no idea I would love it so much, I had no idea I would take to it as I have.  And Mary Tyler Dad?  Forgettaboutit.  Read for yourself what an amazing man he is.

Maybe because of that, because we realize the combination of us, Mary Tyler Dad and I, create some good parenting, is one of the reasons we opted to pursue adoption.  We simply want more of parenting.  We want another child to love and hold and diaper and teach and learn from and raise and nurture and discipline and laugh with and sing with and weep over and stand back in amazement as we watch them soar.

And that child is out there, that birth mother is out there.  We haven’t found one another yet, but they are there.  Maybe they are looking for us right now, as we are looking for them.  I’ve thought for months and months that our baby would find us through Mary Tyler Mom.  There are so many of you, nationwide, that read my posts, and know what kind of parents we are.  I honestly had a whole campaign strategy planned, enlisting the help of my fellow bloggers, none of whom I have yet informed they were part of my plan.

Well, plans change, don’t they?  And this adoption thing keeps evolving, doesn’t it?  We weren’t expecting the call we received on July 16.  We weren’t expecting the roller coaster we would enter, hanging on for dear life all the way.

But here we are, Mary Tyler Dad and I, still standing, still waiting, still looking.  We are not discouraged by the pain and sadness we witnessed.  We are resolved.  Resolved to keep looking, resolved to keep telling our story, resolved that we will find our child and that child will find us.  We are resolved that there is a birth mom out there that believes, as we do, that we are the people she wants and needs, just as she is the person we want and need.

Maybe you know her.  Maybe she is your sister, your aunt, your daughter, your granddaughter, your friend, your sorority sister, your classmate, your neighbor, your church member, your patient, your client, your neice, your goddaughter.  Maybe she is the girl who shampoos your hair, or the one who sells you coffee, or walks the cute dog down the street.  Maybe she is you.

Mary Tyer Dad and I are waiting.  You can find us at marytylermom@gmail.com.

Adoption 101: A Tutorial in Heartbreak

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. 

Tomorrow:  The Visit Begins