Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #10

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #10

After turning down Cold Fish Lady and her husband, as I’ve come to think of them, as  adoptive parents for my son, I was as resolute as ever to find the right parents for him. Shortly thereafter a new profile appeared – and it was like a miracle, a beacon of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. These seemed like my people. The husband, Joe, was friendly. His wife, Patricia, strongly resembled my own mother, right down to her dark hair and olive complexion. As I’ve said before – we had no idea that Eric would be blond.

He was a professor and she worked part-time, in my mind, the best of both worlds. She got out of the house to spend time with other adults but would be available to raise a newborn. They were Catholic, had been married for nearly 10 years, and lived in Nyack, an idyllic place to raise a little boy. They did not have any other children yet, which was a demerit, but everything else about them looked good, so I was willing to give them a chance.

We had a first phone call, this time from the privacy of my apartment, and it went fairly well. Up till the part about my parents. Again with the strong urging of, “They deserve to know.” But nothing had changed since the last time I’d had this conversation, and I remained steadfast in my determination not to tell them. We got past that, though, and ended the conversation on an up note. I told Mary I thought I might like to meet them. She was beside herself, her fingers probably still secretly crossed behind her back. She told me to make the arrangements – whatever time was good for me to meet them would work for her. She’d change her schedule, if need be, to make it work.

So I called them back. That’s when they told me something odd. They would not be available for any phone calls or meetings for the next two weeks. WTF? Any adoptive family who was this close to getting a baby would be available from the moon, if need be. What did they mean that they wouldn’t be available for two weeks? I tried, politely, to get some further explanation, and I was shut down cold. “We won’t be available. Period.”

So, of course, I called Mary. “Hmmm. That’s very strange.” She validated my feelings of concern and promised to look into it – which meant consulting their caseworker. As with all reputable agency adoptions, Tony and I had a social worker assigned to us, and Joe and Patricia had one assigned to them. It took a bit of prodding and prying, but eventually the couple revealed to their caseworker that Joe would be undergoing elective surgery to correct a heart valve issue. It was not in any way life-threatening – more of a precautionary procedure – but he would be in recovery and they’d be unable to travel or talk with a prospective birthmother for about 10 days.

Here’s the thing: when they filled out the paperwork to apply as prospective parents through Spence-Chapin, they were required to disclose a full health history. But they had neglected to mention this little heart issue – which is probably why they were unwilling to explain their two-week unavailability to me. Upon hearing this, the immediate response from a colleague at Lehman Brothers was, “Of course not. They were afraid you’d turn them down if you knew.” Turning them down because of the husband’s health had never even entered my mind. I just wasn’t thinking in those terms. It was their lack of transparency that concerned me, not Joe’s potential heart issues.

After the dust settled, Mary asked me what I wanted to do. I told her that if Joe and Patricia were willing to talk to me, to explain why they’d opted to be so cagey, and to apologize, I might be able to set it all aside and continue the process with them. She was relieved, and agreed to put it to them, via their caseworker. A phone call was arranged, and I tried to be polite, diplomatic even. I think my goal was just to listen. All I remember from that phone call was a single sentence: “We don’t owe you anything.”

It took every ounce of control I could muster not to slam the phone down on that woman. I don’t remember how we ended the conversation, but I know I asked her how she could say such a thing when the whole reason we were even talking was because I was considering entrusting her with the most important thing in the world, my son. The least I felt she owed me was the truth.

In hindsight, I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be in her shoes. I absolutely hate being wrong. Worse still is when I am wrong, it’s put in my face, and my nose is rubbed in it. This couple behaved badly when it came to honesty about something really important, so it should shock no one that I decided not to go with them. But they must have been hurting a great deal.

I later learned that just months earlier, Joe and Patricia had formed a bond with a pregnant woman who had promised to place her child with them. Now, nothing is firm until the papers are signed. In an honorable adoption situation, the pregnant woman has every right to change her mind and decide to keep her baby, right up to the moment she puts her pen to that paper. In some states, she has days – even weeks – to reconsider. Is that hard on the prospective adoptive parents? Of course – which is why Sharon Kaplan Roszia counsels them to consider adoption an extension of the infertility process, not a silver bullet. But it’s the right way to do things – to be sure the birthmother is sure. So even though they knew it was possible that their prospective birthmother could change her mind, Joe and Patricia were hopeful. They had connected with her, bought her maternity clothes, begun to love her and her child. No doubt, they were utterly devastated when she gave birth and snuck out of the hospital without even telling them she had changed her mind.

I can also imagine things from this mother’s point of view, though. She knew that she couldn’t surrender her baby – and more than that, she knew how much telling Joe and Patricia would hurt them. Was her behavior cowardly? Maybe. But it was all she could do, and I would never tell her she was wrong to do it that way. Nevertheless, Joe and Patricia were shattered. And they hadn’t completely healed from that experience when they dove back into the adoption pool and met me. So I can cut them a little slack now, too.

Adoption is many things – and one of them is messy. There’s no neat, clean way to break up one family in an effort to form another, even when the birthmother is fully on board. There’s loss and there’s gain – and in the middle is a child. When that child is blessed, as mine is, he knows he’s truly loved by both sets of parents.

On Regret

On Regret

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about guilt recently. A related – but different – emotion is regret. Wishing you’d done things differently. I think I may have experienced more regret over my adoption decision than guilt – but even that waned after one of my coaches encouraged me to perform a mental exercise.

“See it,” she said, “the whole situation, again, in your mind’s eye. Now, replay all of the possible outcomes, without judging any of them. What might have happened if you’d taken this road instead of that one? How could it have been different?”

Note – her question was not “How WOULD it have been different?” but “How COULD it have been different?”

So I thought back to my adoption decision, and what exactly went into it. The thing that most stays with me is that I was trying to solve what I perceived as an enormous problem for all of us with one decision. My goal was to make the best choice I could for my son, his birthfather, and myself. If one thing has changed since that time, it’s that I’ve become much more adapted to living in the present. At the time I was 27, though, all I could see was the giant expanse of all of our futures hanging in the balance before me, and I needed to come up with the one best solution for all of us.

I was terrified at the thought of being a single mother. I didn’t know how I’d do it to feed, clothe, and care for an infant son while working full-time. My family was back in Phoenix and I was in New Jersey/New York, so who would help with babysitting and errand running, especially since I didn’t have a car at the time? How would I possibly afford the great education my son deserved? Or braces? Or sports equipment? These were the questions that pummeled me, and I felt I had to have an answer to all of them immediately. Had I had the presence of mind to simply take each day as it unfolded (those AA people have one thing right, with their “One Day at a Time” mantra), I probably would have made a different choice.

But I did the best I could with the information I had at the moment.

So, as I performed Vickie’s thought exercise and tried to see the situation with alternate outcomes, I realized that the outcome that occurred was really the only outcome I was capable of at the time. And that helped dispel a lot of the regret.

The only time it really came up in a big wave of emotion was when Eric was maybe 3 years old. It was the only year I remember them doing it, but the Investment Banking Division at Lehman Brothers held a Christmas party for the kids of the employees – and I was on the planning committee. We hired a Santa and some people to dress as the Teletubbies characters. We decorated one of the giant meeting rooms and wrapped hundreds of gifts for some of the most privileged kids in the Tri-State Area. (I still wonder how one more toy truck could have mattered to the child of a millionaire when so many other children really would have appreciated those toys.) We strung lights and hung decorations. This was a PARTY! And then the kids started to arrive. That’s when it hit me. Had Eric been with me instead of with Kathy and Bruce, he would have been at that Christmas party, tearing into a talking Buzz Lightyear.

talking Buzz Lightyear

The overwhelming feelings of sadness were, thankfully, brief. But I’m really glad I experienced them. They reminded me that I had made a conscious choice – the best one I could. They made me grateful for Eric’s family. And they actually reinforced my decision, because I realized that as much as I loved my son, I’m not sure I would have loved being a mom. Not the way Kathy did. Not the way he needed his mom to love being his mom.

I think I’ve actually been blessed to have the best of both worlds: a connection to a kid who is absolutely amazing, along with the knowledge that he had the best parents I could ever have hoped for. I did a good job mothering him for the better part of the first year of his life. Then I handed him over to the people who did the bulk of the work. But it took all of us to get there.

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #8

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #8

Finally, after turning down at least the first half-dozen profiles of prospective adoptive parents I had been shown, I received a profile from Mary of a couple who seemed kind of interesting. He was a child psychologist and she was a teacher’s aide at a Montessori school. The fact that both of their careers revolved around children appeared to be a plus. When we read through their profile, though, there was a very brief mention that the husband had started down the seminary path toward becoming a priest, but abruptly changed his mind and left the seminary.

That intrigued me, because my father had been a Catholic priest who left the priesthood to marry my mom. Unimaginably scandalous, as far as his family was concerned. His oldest brother was a priest and his oldest sister was in the convent. To have a third child who had chosen the Church over marriage must have been an absolute coup in the Catholic one-upmanship game. His leaving must have destroyed his parents’ pride of ownership. Then there was my mom’s family. My mother was first generation Mexican-American, and all of her siblings had married other Latinos – the vast majority of them also Mexican. So not only was my mom marrying a white man, but she was marrying a priest – they never saw him as gone from the priesthood and continued to refer to him as El Sacerdote (The Priest) for the rest of his life.

So when this man mentioned his brief dalliance with the priesthood as a toss-off comment, I wanted to know more about that. I asked my social worker if it would be possible to get more information from them about this, and other aspects of their profile that struck me as a bit sketchy. Had it been permissible, I think Mary would have driven to their home to get the details herself if it meant that I was finally settling on a family. Within a few days, she called to tell me that the couple had expanded their profile and invited me for an unscheduled visit to the agency to review it.

The husband had apparently thought better about a life of celibacy and decided to skip the priesthood in favor of dating and the possibility of marriage. Who could argue with that? Satisfied by that explanation and the other additional information, I agreed to a phone call with the couple. This was the first time we’d made it this far into the process, and I was quite nervous about the call. We did it from Mary’s office, and I honestly don’t remember if Tony was there or not. I rather suspect not – but my memory about that detail is foggy. Mary left me alone in her office for some privacy, and I had a 10- or 15-minute chat with the woman.

At one point, she asked me how my parents had taken the news about the baby and the adoption, and I told her the truth: I had not told them – nor did I have any plans to tell them. That did not go over well with the woman. “What do you mean you’re not going to tell them? They are the grandparents – they deserve to know. You have to tell them!” Um, no, I didn’t. They were conservative Catholics – it wasn’t the pregnancy that would freak them out; it was the sex I’d had to have to get pregnant that would have been the bigger problem.

In spite of this blip, the woman and I made it through the rest of the conversation before hanging up. Mary waited, probably pacing the hallway like an expectant father. Her face fell when I shook my head no. It wasn’t the pestering me about telling my folks about the baby – although that didn’t help. I’ve never been able to put my finger on the specifics of it, but the woman was cold. Not maternal at all. So much so that it was difficult to believe that she worked with children. She was just so distant and ridiculously difficult to talk with. So I told Mary I would pass.

By this time, she was starting to become agitated with every profile I would turn down. “I think you should have one more phone call with them,” she suggested. “Maybe you caught them at a bad time.”

“No, Mary,” I said with the patience of a mother explaining something simple to a child. “I didn’t like her. She was cold and distant and not at all maternal. Another phone call is not going to fix that.”

Mary was nothing if not persistent – she kept trying for another week or more to coax me into giving this family another call “just to see.” I insisted that I wasn’t interested. Finally, she let it go, and we moved on to the next couple of profiles.

Strangely, I was traveling to a seminar with Judy Greene, the birthparent coordinator, not long before I left the NYC area to move back to Phoenix – so Eric was almost 5 at the time – and Judy told me that this couple I had rejected had never been chosen by any birthmother. It wasn’t just me: there was something about them that rubbed me – and apparently everyone else – the wrong way. Eventually they removed themselves from consideration as parents through Spence-Chapin. I’ve no idea whether they pursued a private adoption, whether they stayed married and childless, or if they might have gone their separate ways. I couldn’t exactly put it into words then, and I still can’t do much better today. All I knew was that they weren’t the right parents for my son.

So we plodded on. Stick around for a day or two to hear about the couple behind Profile #10!

Birthparent Advocates

Birthparent Advocates

People who get birthparents get birthparents. Four individuals come to mind – all of whom are/were adoption social workers whose job it is/was to advocate for women who place(d) their babies for adoption, as well as birthfathers when they are involved.

The first is Jim Gritter. I don’t know if Jim has any personal connection to adoption beyond his role as a social worker, but according to the National Association for Social Work (NASW) website:

James Gritter is a nationally known champion of open adoptions. He became a child welfare caseworker in 1974 in his native state of Michigan and has been practicing, writing, and educating the profession and the public about the issue of open adoption since then. In 1982 he organized the first conference on this issue, “Beyond the Shadow of Secrecy,” in Traverse City, Michigan, bringing together adoption professionals from around the US.

I met Jim at an adoption conference and have always admired and appreciated him for being such an outspoken advocate for openness in adoption.

The next is a person I’ve mentioned before, Sharon Kaplan Roszia. She is the mother of biological children, adopted children, and foster children. According to her own website:

Sharon Kaplan Roszia is an internationally known educator, presenter, and author who has devoted fifty years of her professional career to the institution of foster care and adoption. While working in public and private agencies as well as private practice venues, she has focused on crisis pregnancy; infertility; infant adoptions; placement of children from the foster care system, including sibling groups and teenagers, and search and reunion. The additional issues of international adoptions; trans-racial adoptions; gay and lesbian built families; and traumatized children with attachment challenges have also become a specialty. In the last twenty five years, Sharon has also paved the way in the world of open adoptions; believing in preserving connections over time.

Sharon impressed me from the first time I learned about her when my friend Lynn Franklin interviewed her for her book, May the Circle Be Unbroken. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of meeting Sharon in person, hearing her speak, and reading her books. Like Jim Gritter, she’s been a vocal champion of birthparent rights.

I’ve also mentioned Judy Greene, the birthparent coordinator when I placed my son through the Spence-Chapin agency in New York City. As is probably appropriate, we knew virtually nothing about her private life. I don’t even know how old she is – except that because of the long, completely white hair she usually wore in a single braid down the back, she seemed old-ish to me. Of course, when you’re 27, everybody over 35 seems old-ish. I know she’d worked on the birthparent side of the adoption world for her whole career and had been doing it for 26+ years when I was placing. She retired before I moved back to Phoenix, with a plan to move up to Massachusetts and start a B&B. I would love to have an update but haven’t been able to learn any more.

What I most remember was that Judy was truly a birthmother champion. She arranged for me to speak to many different groups, comprised of prospective adoptive parents, parents who had already adopted, social workers, and hospital staffs. Judy would usually be the one to introduce me, and the other birthmothers, if it was a panel. I’m not sure why – my guess is it’s because I knew that Judy was not a birthmother and had no ties to adoption other than her professional life – but every single time she introduced me (and other birthmothers), I would hold my breath and wait for her to make a mistake. I would wait for her to say something – anything – that misrepresented us or indicated that she didn’t really know what it was like to be a birthmother because she wasn’t one. And I’m really glad to say that every single time – probably a dozen or more – she proved me wrong. Judy never, ever said anything to disrespect, denigrate, or misrepresent the birthmother’s perspective when it came to adoption. I really wish I could find her to thank her for that.

Lastly, I want to tell you about my friend, Beth Kozan. I met Beth here in Phoenix way back in 2005. I had been living here for a few years and was missing my connection to other birthmothers. So I decided to host a spoken word event that I called “The Birthmother You Know.” My intention was to have women come to share their stories, written or oral, as they related to being birthmoms. The only problem was that I didn’t know any birthmoms in Phoenix. So I reached out to every adoption agency and adoption support group in the area to ask them to invite their birthmothers to my event.

Very few responded. We held it at a now-defunct coffee shop, and for a first-time event with little response from the Phoenix adoption community, it was still pretty well attended. Some women read poems, others short stories. One gal read the email correspondence she had exchanged with her daughter before their face-to-face reunion. Beth was a big part of the success of this event, as she brought a number of the birthmoms who attended.

Subsequently, Beth has written a book titled, ADOPTION: More Than by Chance, about the coincidences and synchronicities that occur in so many adoptions. Hers are stories of the more memorable ones she witnessed over her 30-year career. Beth is currently working on a second book, Helping the Birthmother You Know, which will be a resource for friends and family members of women who are considering placing their children for adoption. So many people struggle with what to say and how to behave. Birth-grandparents my try very hard to talk their daughter out of the decision, because if she places, “normal” access to their grandchild walks out the door with the baby. Siblings and friends often just don’t know what to say. I can’t wait for Beth’s book – because it’s so long overdue.

The other night, Beth and I attended a meeting together where we were discussing our goals for 2018. Beth mentioned that she belongs to an adoption triad group in Phoenix that has an incomplete logo. There are images for the adoptive parent and adopted person sides of the triangle that represents the adoption triad – but the birthparents have no image. Almost like they don’t exist. Check the adoption literature, and it sometimes feels that way.

When Beth asked the organization about the missing piece of the logo, the answer was, “Well, birthparents don’t really attend the group very often.”

“Could that be because you do nothing to welcome them?” Beth asked in response. So Beth promised that by May 12, Birthmothers’ Day 2018, she will make sure that birthparents are equally represented on this organization’s logo – and, hopefully, at the meetings. Like Judy, Beth has no personal link to adoption. She fell into it as a young social worker, and has been advocating for birthmothers and birthfather ever since.

I’m sure there are other birthparent champions out there. These are the four I happen to have met, whose books I have read, and whose hearts I know. If you know of others, let me know. Let’s give them a resource page so that we can help them help us to continue to destigmatize the birthparents’ role in the adoption process.

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profiles #1 – #6

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profiles #1 – #6

In a post a couple days ago, I described a bit about the process involved in choosing the family who adopted and raised my son. That’s been a wonderful update in the process from the standard just 25 to 30 years ago (not all that long before my adoption), when agency “experts” would decide for a pregnant woman which family would adopt her child.

I have done no research to back this up – not to mention that data related to adoption statistics is extremely difficult to come by and, to my mind, therefore suspect – but I was told that the average woman choosing a semi-open adoption (fully open adoptions were not facilitated through my agency at this time) selected a family from the first three or four profiles they saw.

I thought that was outrageous. What if I didn’t like any of the first three or four families? It wasn’t my deliberate plan to reject those profiles out of hand, as they were shown to me, but that’s what happened. None of them jumped out as the perfect family for my son. You may quarrel with my reasons for rejecting them – and maybe I was searching for something close to perfection – but I just knew they weren’t right.

Here’s a rundown of the first six profiles shown to me. A profile included a “Dear Birthparents” letter, as well as a dossier or résumé, of sorts, with details about the prospective parents, as well as a photo album. Please understand, it’s been more than 22 years, and I still remember all of these details. I didn’t take photocopies of these families’ profiles or write notes. These are the things that stood out in my mind so strongly that I still remember them to this day. Does that mean there’s a chance I’ve erred in my recollections? Of course – but the gist is accurate, especially in terms of my reasons for rejecting them as parents for my son.

PROFILE #1

Nothing wrong - nothing special

This seemed to be a nice enough couple, but they were both fair-haired (I had no idea that my son would be blond) and had something of a milquetoast feel to them. The quote I remember from their profile was, “We don’t let adoption rule our lives.” I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I understand it now. As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, it used to be that I didn’t know someone for five minutes before they knew I was a birthmother. That is no longer really the case. Until I decided to create this blog, adoption had sort of seeped into the background of my life. It’s much more front and center as I write about it daily for the moment (just ask my husband), but I do understand the sentiment of not eating, breathing, and sleeping adoption. Still, this couple seemed quiet and uninteresting to me.

PROFILE #2

No Mark Twain

This was a friendly couple who, in my opinion, were trying too hard. The only thing I really recall was a sentence that went something like, “When Jim tells a story, the children in our family (presumably nieces and nephews) are glued to their seats!” Really? Yuck. So I said no. And then, a month or so later, I was presented with a “new” profile, except that it was Jim and Linda again. How did I know? How many people write “When Jim tells a story, the children in our family are glued to their seats!” in their profiles? So I insisted to Mary, my social worker, that I’d already seen that profile, and she insisted I had not. She patiently explained that the agency took care to be sure there were no duplications. But I was adamant that I had seen that profile previously. Only because I insisted, she researched it and found out that the couple had different last names – not that odd, as my husband and I have different names – but for a reason never explained to me, they’d moved the profile from the husband’s surname to the wife’s surname. I remember thinking they were just trying to sneak it past me the second time, as if I wouldn’t notice. Nevertheless, there were apologies, and we moved on.

PROFILE #3

Perfect on paper

There were three parts to a profile and these folks focused on the photo album. This was long before scrapbooking became a national phenomenon, but this woman was just ahead of that curve. The album was stunning. And the dossier was incredible. The couple was mixed – the man was Jewish and the woman was Catholic. They were world travelers and had all kinds of amazing plans for any child who would join their family, in terms of the things he would do and places he would go. They already had plans to build an elaborate indoor playground inside their enormous townhouse. On paper, they were perfect. But there wasn’t a word anywhere in their profile about their personal values. I had to infer, by their omission, that the core elements of interpersonal relationships – communication, honesty, personal growth, joy – were not high on their priority list. As a result, this profile that was so gorgeous on the outside felt empty and soulless to me. Interestingly, I learned a year or so later that a very beautiful model had chosen this couple as the parents for their child. It was probably a perfect fit.

PROFILE #4

Perfect on paper

So the point of a profile is for the prospective adoptive family to introduce themselves to prospective birthmoms. I can’t even imagine where you would start to write one. The goal has to be to simultaneously stand out and be yourself. I’m sure some families turn to their social workers for counseling and ideas about what to put into the profile. Remember, this was YEARS before Google and YouTube. Yesterday, I came across this blog post with a list of 25 answers to the question “What do [prospective] birthmothers look for in adoptive parents?” I didn’t read it because I didn’t have 37 extra hours – and my guess is that the answers are as varied as the women who wrote them. What I was looking for was radically different from what that model wanted, so how would our respective answers help the other’s choice of parents? Which brings me to Profile 4. The only thing I remember about it was that the pictures were placed on colored construction paper and the descriptions written in magic marker. I felt as if that family had completely missed the boat and was gearing their profile at the baby, not at me. But perhaps a much younger prospective birthmom would have found them delightful.

PROFILE #5

Perfect on paper

Seafoam green. That’s it – the problem and the entirety of what I remember about this family. They were looking to adopt their second child (Check! I wanted a couple who already had a baby!), so the nursery was already complete. The thing is, this nursery was seafoam green, from ceiling to floor. The ceiling, the carpet, the crib, the window shades – the entire fucking room was one horrible shade of green. I mean, as a kid, seafoam green was one of my favorite crayon colors. And it might have worked in an nursery, if it had been broken up with some white, or off white – or ANY other color. I don’t know why – but that was all I needed to know they weren’t the right family for my son.

PROFILE #6

Perfect on paper

Most profiles included some photos of the home, so you could get a sense of the house where your child might grow up, along with photos of the family. Some included just the couple; others included photos of extended family, particularly if the child would have lots of first cousins near his age. This profile was notable because there wasn’t a single photo that included people. Not one. They had photos of every room in the house – basement and attic included. And then, on the vary last page, was a handwritten note – an apology – that they had forgotten to take a picture of the downstairs bathroom. To this day, I remember thinking, “Well, I trust you would have cleaned it for the photo shoot. It’s probably a very nice restroom. Next!”

—————-

FULL DISCLOSURE: This is not necessarily the exact order in which I saw the profiles – just the order in which I remember them. There were a total of 12, and I remember details about nine of them. I’ve covered six of those nine in this post. The other three stories are significant enough that they warrant their own posts. So, tune in soon for Profile 8. (We’ll just call Profile 7 one of the ones I forgot.)

Caricature of an Adoptive Mom

Caricature of an Adoptive Mom

A birthmom friend of mine, Lynn Franklin, wrote a book about her adoption story, titled May the Circle Be Unbroken: An Intimate Journey into the Heart of Adoption. In the book, she juxtaposed her adoption experience with the changes that had taken place in adoption from the time she placed through the time she wrote the book in 1998. I have a story in that book, and I helped Lynn with the transcriptions of her interviews of people on all sides of the adoption triad, as well as adoption professionals. One story, in particular, will haunt me forever. In quickly flipping through the book now, I do not see this particular story. But I’ll never forget transcribing the words.

The interviewee was a woman – an adoptive mother who, with her husband, had ultimately chosen international adoption. They first opted for a traditional adoption through the same agency I used, Spence-Chapin. Founded in 1910, the agency is one of the oldest and most reputable in the country. I was referred to them by a colleague who had adopted through them.

As a birthmother who used only Spence-Chapin’s birthmother services, I can simply guess what might have occurred on the adoptive parent side, in terms of counseling and recommendations. One thing that was strongly encouraged of prospective adoptive parents (I don’t believe it was mandatory) was meeting a birthmother so they could ask questions and get some sense of what adoption was like through her lens. I volunteered to be one of the birthparents with whom prospective adoptive parents could speak. The idea was to give prospective parents a glimpse into the life of the birthmother, from why she might choose adoption to the kind of contact she might desire after the adoption was complete.

I had asked about open adoption early in our process and was told something along the lines of, “We don’t really do that.” Spence was traditional through and through, and though open adoption had started to pick up support on the West Coast in the early ’90s, Spence was very slow to come around to embracing it. They were cool with semi-open adoption, though, which meant limited contact between the birth families and adoptive families, facilitated by the agency. So at this point, a prospective birthmother could choose between a [still] closed or semi-open adoption.

Evidently, all of this counseling and meeting of birthmothers was too much for this couple Lynn had interviewed. I still recall the woman’s words from all those years ago. “There was just too much namby-pamby handholding at this agency. We just wanted to get it done.” This was the definition of a power couple: he was a Wall Street investment banker and she was a corporate lawyer. They were used to getting what they wanted when they wanted it. And they wanted a baby now. Not tomorrow. Not in a month or two. TODAY. And they were willing to do whatever it would take to get this baby. She stopped just short of saying they were willing to pay whatever it cost to buy this baby.

So they left Spence-Chapin by the wayside and opted instead for a private international adoption. Remember my post about parents returning “damaged” babies to agencies in Eastern Europe? This couple was headed down that same path. I was terrified for whichever child they might have adopted, because anything short of perfection was not about to be tolerated. And what were the chances that their adoption attorney might have found a healthy, highly intelligent, Type A baby just waiting for them to come along and scoop him up?

If I hadn’t personally known Lynn and heard this recording for myself, I would have sworn the interview was a clip from a bad Lifetime movie script. My stomach was in knots just listening to this woman describe her expectations for her new child and the family they would build. People are people – whether they adopt or give birth to their children. Some are great at parenting; others have no business doing it. I have no idea how that adoption turned out – and I hope for the best for the kid who eventually made his home with this couple. But even after all these years, I still fear for how things might have gone.

So Much More Than Simple Luck

So Much More Than Simple Luck

Through the years, people have told me that I am lucky to have found such a great family for my son – a term that used to grate on me. It wasn’t luck – it was persistence and determination.

You know the saying, “You can’t be a little bit pregnant”? Well, that’s not exactly true – at least the way the Spence-Chapin agency handled things when I was pregnant. As I’ve written previously, I knew from the earliest days that I would place my son for adoption – and I never really wavered in that decision. Had his birthfather wanted to get married, I’d have changed my mind in a heartbeat – but that was not to be. So I got started with adoption counseling earlier than most birthmothers.

The process, as it unfolded for me, was an initial phone call with the head of the birthparent department. Next came an introductory phone call with the social worker assigned to us, as birthparents. Then the first face-to-face meeting. Somewhere in one of the very early meetings, we were shown the profile of a prospective adoptive family. This included a “Dear Birthparents” letter. I was impressed with any family who had the forethought (or perhaps a nudge from their social worker) to write “Birthparents” instead of “Birthmother,” because it meant they understood that sometimes, as was my situation, the birthfather is involved. The profile also included a dossier or résumé, of sorts, with details about the prospective parents, as well as a photo album.

The couple in this “sample” profile looked older than us (I was 27 and Tony was 25) but still young. They looked happy. And, boy, were they white! I think if I were choosing a family today, I might aim for more diversity – but at the time, I went with what I knew. (Although my mom was Mexican – making me half – I always identified as Caucasian. And Tony was a WASP, through and through.) My requirements were simple (or so I thought): I wanted a traditionally married Catholic couple who already had at least one child (I did not want my son to be the Guinea pig) and lived in a suburb somewhere in the Tri-State Area (so he’d be close to New York City but still grow up with a yard). Check, check, check, and check. That first couple met every one of my criteria. I was eager to meet them.

Not. So. Fast.

You see, I wasn’t pregnant enough yet. At that time, Spence-Chapin had a rule that a woman had to be at least halfway through her pregnancy before she could start officially considering profiles of prospective parents. The one we saw was just “to give us an idea” about what a profile looked like. So it might have made more sense for them to show me the profile of gay couple or a single ethnic woman if they didn’t want me to actually consider them as parents for my son.

I’m not sure how long I had to wait before I could begin “officially” reviewing profiles, but it was probably close to a month. And by the time I was able to start the process, that perfect family I’d liked so much was gone. Some other prospective birthmother had swooped them up – and who could blame her? I was crushed. But some things are not meant to be – and other things are. We’ll talk about adoption synchronicities in another post.

Interestingly, I later learned that the gal who’d chosen my first-choice family was quite young, perhaps an addict, and quite a storyteller. She’d told the couple whatever they wanted to hear, in terms of her personal history, her health, and the baby’s health. She came down with diabetic preeclampsia, and the baby was born in distress and would likely have health issues, going forward. I was sad to hear this couple had had to go through that – and wondered how this gal’s behavior wasn’t spotted before it got that far. But what it meant to me, personally, was that I had to start from scratch to find a family for my son. That was a long road.

I remember hearing that the average birthmother saw two or three profiles before choosing a family for her child. But what if I don’t like any of those families?! I remember asking, horrified at the thought. This was the most important decision I would ever make in my life, and they wanted me to choose from the first two or three families the birthparent team pre-selected for me, without ever having met or spoken to me!? Yes, Mary was good at her job, but was she really equipped to describe for these strangers exactly what I wanted in a family for my son? It is a point of pride for me that as a result of mine and other birthmoms’ input via the Birthparent Advisory Board, every prospective birthmom (or birth-couple) considering adoption through Spence-Chapin now gets to see a summary of ALL of the waiting couples, singles, and families who might become adoptive parents to their babies.

By the time I’d seen six or seven profiles and rejected all of them for various reasons (more on that in a future post!), the agency started to doubt my sincerity about the placement. I suppose it did seem odd – Tony and I had been “together” for five years at this point. I had a stable job WITH health insurance. There were none of the big red flags that indicated a “crisis” pregnancy. Except that I was determined to place my baby for adoption, and they weren’t taking me seriously. It was only when I threatened to leave and head over to Catholic Charities, a Spence-Chapin competitor, that they reconsidered and grudgingly allowed me to see a couple more profiles.

As an aside, Kathy told me something she’d never shared with me when we were visiting with Eric’s family last month. She said that she and Bruce experienced something similar on the adoptive parent side, because the agency was concerned that Bruce wasn’t properly committed to the adoption. It wasn’t until they mentioned that perhaps they’d use Gladney (another well-known NYC agency) instead that they, too, were taken seriously.

It’s funny, because in my head, I can see Mary hesitantly handing me a red folder and me having to pry it from her hands. I know, of course, that it wasn’t like that – but that’s how I’ve doctored the story in my memory. They were so reluctant to allow me more than one profile at a time. Maybe this couple will be to your liking? I can hear an imaginary Mary saying.

There may have been luck involved – I’ve come to think of it more like divine providence. The coincidences in our adoption are so voluminous and unlikely that it feels there had to be some sort of divine guidance at play. Going forward, I’ll review some of the profiles I rejected and my reasons for doing so. I bless each of those couples and thank them for having been part of my process. More than anything, though, I’m grateful for the couple who belonged to Profile #12.