Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Staring Down Adoption

I’ve always said I might like to adopt someday. A lot of people do. How easy it is to imagine the best version of myself when it’s all theoretical.

We decided to try Clomid, but that was as far as we wanted to go with fertility treatments. With one biological child, I could accept missing the pregnancy experience this time around. And instead of IVF, it just seemed to make more sense to put our dollars into adoption, which would almost certainly result in a child. We could only do the Clomid for three to six months, and adoptions can take several years, so we figured we might as well pursue adoption at the same time. We’d know about a pregnancy well before we got a match.

I threw myself into research, talking to everyone I knew who’d done it, zeroing in on recommended agencies and familiarizing myself with the complicated process. I was very interested in adopting from a poor country and giving a child a chance for a much better life. I love my work, but it nags at me that I do nothing to make the world a better place (I don't think knowing how to pick a chic diaper bag qualifies). Here was my chance to make a difference – all the difference – to one kid. I zeroed in on Ethiopia, one of the most open countries right now, with infants available. I’d always had an interest in visiting Africa, and adoptions there could be completed fairly quickly with just one short visit.

Navigating the process was one thing. Wrapping my head around the idea was another. It seemed preposterous; I was going to travel somewhere, pick up a random kid, and they'd be mine forever? I looked at my friend’s kids, and tried to imagine them as my own. I never doubted I would adore my own flesh and blood, but what if the connection wasn’t there with an adopted child? It wasn’t something I could undo. I looked at the adoptive parents I knew, and they loved their kids just like I loved Muffin, although some admitted the infatuation was not instant. Still, it was hard to picture it.

The more I turned it around in my brain, the more I faced cringe-worthy truths about myself. A co-worker freaked me out with her story about how her daughter from Ethiopia spent her first weeks in the US in the ICU. That girl was her second match – the first had died before she could be adopted. Although you can specify if you’re unwilling to take on a special needs child, many still slip through the cracks due to a lack of competent doctors who can diagnose properly. And even relatively healthy kids can have many initial problems due to prenatal malnutrition. If Muffin became ill I’d drop everything to be by her side. But signing up to take that on, when I already had one kid who needed me and a career I loved – I had to admit I wasn’t up for it.

I also had to own up to some disturbingly shallow motivations. Ethiopian children seem to be exceptionally beautiful, and that eased some of my fears about bonding. Surely a gorgeous face would be easier to love. And I had to admit – ugh -- that I relished the idea of how the world would see me. A child of a different race would broadcast that I was a selfless, do-gooding, Angelina type. These were seriously pathetic reasons to adopt. I couldn’t decide if the ridiculous reasons negated the decent ones.

A chat with an old friend from college who’d adopted a son from Ethiopian jarred me into reality. She said a day didn’t go by that someone didn’t make a rude comment or a nosy query. She could never just be a mom with her kid. She also expected major identity issues in the teenage years, and planned to move to a mostly African-American neighborhood so her son could be surrounded by faces that resembled his own. I looked at my own network of friends and acquaintances and found it pretty vanilla. How would it feel to not only look totally different than your parents, but to have a sibling that was pretty much a carbon copy?

Even the thought of adopting a kid who looked more like us didn’t ease my fears. Wasn’t it still a crap shootin the end? What if I got a bad seed? I know from personal experience that biological siblings can be night and day, but still the false security is comforting. I wanted Muffin 2.0.

For someone with little belief in fate, adoption was going to be a quantum leap for me. But with big risks come big rewards. I had the same feeling I used to have when I was a teenager just starting to date – totally petrified of what might happen but pusling with excitement just the same. We signed up for meetings with domestic and international agencies – and filled the Clomid prescription.


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