Several of you have commented, in response to my hand-wringing about whether to have another child, that I don't seem to be considering the possibility of adoption. Not so; adoption certainly remains an option, as it has since IVF #3. But first things first: what I'm currently concerned about is whether to bring another child into our family, rather than how.
It is true, however, that I don't see adoption as an easy way out of a difficult conundrum. It's not the no-brainer that it might be for others in our position, or that some think it should be for us. Although it's not risky physically, there are significant emotional issues associated with adoption, and I can't deny their existence, nor can I dismiss them easily. The fact is, almost as much as another pregnancy, adoption scares the bejesus out of me.
Why? Here is part one.
Have you ever visited online profiles of couples who hope to adopt domestically? I have. I've spent a great deal of time, in fact, paging through profile after profile, wondering what makes each couple special. Noticing what they feel is important for a woman considering adoption to know. And, yes, comparing ourselves to them. Sussing out the competition, if you want to know the truth.
They're cute, I'll think with rising chagrin, and, shit, they mow their lawn! That's it. Game over. Or I'll silently pledge, This year I won't hate Christmas. This year I won't hate Christmas, so I can honestly claim, like every other waiting couple, to love holidays with friends and family. Or I'll get downright aggressive, huffing, So fucking what if Dave plans to build a treehouse in the backyard? Paul is outside right now planting a goddamn deciduous copse, where he'll construct an entire fucking arboreal civilization. And I'll be hurriedly sketching out a cunning aqueduct made of hollowed-out logs to carry fresh water to the good people of Mapleopolis when I catch myself and think, What the hell am I doing?
What I'm doing is freaking out. I am terrified that no birth mother would choose us.
It has nothing to do with whether we'd make good parents. With Charlie we're often fantastic, and if sometimes we're merely adequate, well, our average is still solidly pegged at "good." I even think we'd be able to communicate that to a woman considering placing her child. (It might take some fancy footwork, some sleight of hand, maybe a kickass PowerPoint presentation, but I think we could somehow manage.) And it's not about feeling inadequate, exactly, because, um, low self-esteem has never been my particular problem. I mean, sure, I may smell like vomit, but it's an honest reek, not unlike that of a goodhearted workman who's spent a hot June day toiling in his field of organic mung beans, only, well, mung-ier. No, I know we're as deserving and as appealing as everyone else.
Yes. We're every bit as deserving and appealing as everyone else. We're just not any more so.
No, really. Hard to believe! I know! But, listen, these people are nice.
I want to make it clear at the outset that I have no intention of mocking the couples whose profiles I've read. To a one, they seem like genuinely lovely people who have a great deal to offer a child — people who, like all of us, simply want to complete their families and are bravely opening their hearts to strangers to do so. They are obviously good people, so good that on days when I'm feeling especially discouraged, it's easy to believe most of them have a lot more to offer a child than we do.
And, Jesus, to someone considering domestic open adoption, isn't that scary?
But it's true, and to support my assertion I present Exhibit A. Ward and June are an amalgam, a fictitious couple based on many, many profiles. Much of what I attribute to them is copied almost verbatim from various sources — "almost" because I've altered the wording here and there to make the sources unidentifiable, and because I truly mean to make a point about us rather than about them.
Therefore I give you a generic adopting couple vs. Paul and Julie.
|Ward and June||Paul and Julie|
|About Us||Met: Blind date in college
Married: 12 years
Comment: "We're best friends and true partners in every sense of the word."
|Met: Sketchy online romance-turned-torrid bedbound weekend
Married: Three years and change; Julie would have to consult their marriage certificate for the exact date
Comment: "I can't believe we've been together for almost ten years and I'm still not sick of him."
|Introduction||Thank you for taking the time to learn more about us. We appreciate your courage and strength as you consider an adoption plan. We know this is a very difficult time for you. We admire and support you as you face the most important decision of your baby's life.|
June: Longtime kindergarten teacher who's chosen to stay at home with the Beaver
Julie: Internet loafer,
|Home||Four-bedroom clapboard colonial on a quiet tree-lined cul de sac in a neighborhood filled with children. "We have a big sunny bedroom that we can't wait to turn into a cheerful haven for a boy or girl."||Smaller-scale version of the Winchester Mystery House backing on spooky pine woods. Unfinished trim carpentry throughout house. Suspicious stain on carpet immediately outside master bath. Indeterminate number of bedrooms. "I guess I could give up my sewing room..."|
|Family||Ward is one of nine children — you can be sure his parents, both living, love kids! June, too, is part of a close-knit family. They spend every holiday and birthday together, and often get together just to enjoy each other's company.||Julie to Paul, sotto voce, when his sister is on the phone: "Did you tell her it's not a good time to come visit? No, God, I don't want to talk to her! Don't you give me that phone! Don't you... Oh, hi! Nice to talk to you, too!"|
|Pets||Wise and faithful yellow Lab named Molly, whose obedience training included instruction in basic first aid; safe operation of an automated external defibrillator; and gently but insistently pulling children out of burning houses||Cat who steals Charlie's toys and pointedly drops them into the litter box|
|Community involvement||Ward created a program that serves at-risk teens by teaching them self respect through martial arts instruction, while June spends two weekends a month volunteering at the local food pantry.||Paul gives blood. A lot. All the time. (Hey, free cookies and juice.) Julie smiles at homeless people and never, ever pretends she doesn't see them.|
|Religion||Active in their Christian church, attending services at least once weekly||Avoid houses of worship at all costs, lest they be simultaneously struck by lightning, afflicted with boils, and consumed in a fiery plume of spontaneous human combustion|
|Plans||"We're looking forward to sharing afternoons at the zoo, the circus, or Disney's latest movie with our child."||"Come on, kid, we're going to the grocery store. Yes, again. Now hush and eat the shopping list. You still haven't had your daily ink."|
|Children||One, adopted, "and we thank God and his birthmother for the magnificent gift of being the Beaver's parents."||One, biological, "and we look at him every day and think, Jesus gay, better not try that again."|
But ultimately I know it's not that simple. I know that each woman who considers placing her child with a couple is making an intensely personal decision. I know that her reasons aren't always easily articulated, and that her response can be downright visceral. I also know that no two women are seeking exactly the same qualities, and that the qualities they do seek are much more complicated than "looks happy playing Uno with her nephew," or "has an American flag flying from the porch." I know they don't make choices based solely on five pictures and three paragraphs. Most of all, I know they are smart, I know they are caring, and I know they are to be trusted. So I can often overcome my fear that we might not be on par with the Cleavers in superficial ways.
What I can't overcome is Charlie.
We have a son, a beautiful, beloved son, our biological son. And that's what concerns me most. I try to put myself in the place of a pregnant woman seeking a home for her child, and I just cannot imagine it. If I were in her place, wouldn't I prefer a family in which the other children had been adopted? Or a couple who had no children yet at all? Wouldn't I worry that my child might be treated differently from the firstborn, if not by his adoptive parents then by relatives or friends? Wouldn't I look at a history of superhuman attempts to conceive, and their obvious devotion to their son, and doubt whether adoption is this couple's first and happy choice?
I don't think I could do it. I couldn't place a child with a couple like Paul and me, not because of who we are personally but because of what we are as a family.
I know women who plan to place their babies are smart. They're caring. They are to be trusted. But I can't quite believe one could overcome that, no matter how smart and caring and trustworthy, when there are countless other homes for their children. And how can I intentionally make our family vulnerable to a rejection I'm sure will come?
That's my own issue, I know, little more than a frightened projection. I can't justify it in any way, because I know intellectually that women place their babies with all sorts of families for all sorts of reasons. (Dan Savage got a baby, after all, and he makes his living talking about that frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes a by-product of anal sex.) I don't like this failure of imagination in myself. But I can't deny it, and at the moment I can't move past it.