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.