Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #12 – The Final Profile

Prospective Adoptive Parent Profile #12 – The Final Profile

After the debacle with Joe and Patricia, I think the birthparent department at Spence-Chapin may have lost faith that they would ever come through and find a family for me. It wasn’t their fault – but that kind of thing should not have happened. If adoption is going to work, all sides need to be forthcoming about all the details. Evasiveness only delays the problem – because the secrets will be revealed, and if they’re your secrets and you’re not the one to reveal them, they will bite you on the ass.

So you can imagine Mary’s upbeat nature at our next scheduled meeting. She was bouncing on her heels with excitement. “I have it,” she said. “This is the one – I just know it.” A new family had just received approval to enter the adoption process – they were so new that the agency hadn’t even had a chance to redact their profile of identifying information so I could see it. Mary sat at her desk and read it to me.

Their names were Kathy and Bruce, and they’d been married 15 years. They had a biological daughter – hmmm… It turns out, they’d had a baby girl who was born with a heart defect and lived less than a week. Understandably distraught, they decided to try to get pregnant again as soon as possible, or they feared they’d never try again. So they got pregnant – and their second daughter was born, also with a heart issue, but she was strong enough to pull through. However, she was the only bio child they would have.

So they already had a little girl, 10 years old at the time they were wading into adoption. That had been one of my four criteria: a family who already had a child. Sure, I would have preferred if their existing child had been closer in age to my son, but it was way more important to me that they already were parents. And I loved that they’d taken their time deciding about the adoption. I could also see immediately – after having waded through the 11 previous profiles – the fact that infertility was not a factor would be quite significant.

They were Catholic, and active in their church – things that wouldn’t impress me all that much now, but at the time, these were exactly the characteristics I was looking for in a family for my son, because they were familiar to me. They felt like home to me. That was what my childhood experience had been, so it felt right. Although I wasn’t able to read through their profile, I was able to look at the photos they’d included. One still stands out – a picture of Bruce taking their daughter, Jill, trick-or-treating. That single photo made me so happy.

When Corina and I were growing up, our parents were OLD. It was like a double-generation gap, because they were almost 20 years older than the parents of most of our peers. Kathy and Bruce were about the same age my parents had been when they’d had Corina and me, but they seemed years younger.

Kathy and Jill were horsewomen. They routinely visited a stable close to where they lived and each had a horse they rode regularly. They also volunteered there, mucking the stalls and feeding and brushing the horses. If I’m not mistaken, there was mention that they did not have any household pets – but they were open to getting a dog later, when their new child was older. Still, to this day, I’ve never ridden a horse in my life. Yes, I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona – what was once the Wild West – and I live here again now. Still, I didn’t relate much to the horses. The promise of a dog, though – that was another plus. Mine had always been a dog family.

I was in. I wanted to meet these people.

Suddenly, Mary got up and walked out of her office – I don’t remember the reason. And she left Kathy and Bruce’s unredacted profile sitting right there on her desk. I could have so easily gone over and read it – learned their last name and where they lived. But, remember: I was a good girl, always behaving myself. I’m not sure why I didn’t – but I did not look at those pages. I let that most amazing opportunity slip past me. I’ve never known whether Mary did it on purpose, but I’ve always suspected that, even if it was unconscious, she did. (Some things are just meant to be, though. More on that in an upcoming post.)

I arranged a phone call with Kathy – and she was every bit as delightful as I’d hoped she would be. The question about my parents – inevitable, it seems – came up again. This time, though, instead of telling me that I had to tell them, Kathy said something to the effect of, “Well, you know your parents better than anyone. If you don’t think they’ll take the news well, not telling them is your decision. Maybe someday you’ll want to tell them, but if that day never comes, that’s OK, too.” Wow, respect for my decisions – that was new, and welcome.

Yeah – these were good people. Tony and I decided to meet them, and things moved forward from there.

You know, Kathy follows this blog and reads these posts. I’ll have to check with her to see if I remembered the details of hers and Bruce’s profile correctly – or if the lens of memory has colored it in any way. Regardless of the accuracy of my memory, I’ll be forever grateful for the folks on the other end of Profile #12.

As an aside, I didn’t realize until recently how fortunate Kathy and Bruce were: a recent review of the Spence-Chapin website indicates that there’s typically a one- to two-year wait for a couple to adopt a child, and the majority of their babies are placed by black and Hispanic women. I don’t know if those statistics were the same 23 years ago. But Kathy and Bruce entered the process, and within six months were able to adopt a healthy – no drug or alcohol issues – white infant at birth. The likelihood of that occurring today is unbelievably rare.

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!”

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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.

What Do You Mean, “YOUR Son”?!

What Do You Mean, “YOUR Son”?!

Spence-Chapin, the adoption agency I used, was an old, established institution. As adoptions go, they do a pretty good job of fostering communication between the birth and prospective adoptive families. Just to be clear – a birthmother, a woman who relinquishes a baby for adoption, does not become a birthmother until she’s signed the paperwork and the adoption is finalized. Until that time, she is a prospective birthmother.

Not long after my son was born, Spence-Chapin did two positive things for birthmothers. They started a birthmom support group, which I attended regularly until I moved away from the area. And they also created a birthmother advisory board, made up of a group of birthmothers who offered input on how the birthparent department handled their side of the adoption process. I’ll write more about both of those in the future.

Perhaps as an extension of these efforts – and because I’ve always been a pretty good public speaker – I was invited to participate in a number of panel discussions and presentations to people involved in adoptions. Some of those were seminars for hospital staffs and social workers. One was a huge audience at the annual adoption congress. But on a couple of occasions, I spoke to small groups of prospective adoptive parents. The goal was to give couples considering adoption a glimpse into the birthmother’s point of view. I always cautioned them that my story was uniquely mine – they should not expect the same perspective from their birthmother.

During one particular presentation, I made specific mention of “my son,” and a woman stood up and challenged me, “What do you mean your son?”

I was flabbergasted. What did she mean “What did I mean my son?”?

I looked her in the eye and said to her, “He’s my firstborn male child. What else would you have me call him?”

She sat down, flummoxed and irate. It had just never occurred to her that another woman out there somewhere might also be referring to her child as their child, too. But that’s what adoption is. Two – maybe three – families involved in the creation and raising of this little person. One’s not better than the other. None has more claim than the other. They just have different roles. But if it was that difficult for this mom to wrap her head around, no wonder adopted kids can be confused.

I worked hard to stay in touch with my son and his family without ever pushing beyond what felt comfortable to them. And even so, he struggled with the emotions that must inevitably arise when you wonder why they didn’t keep you.

My son’s father wasn’t ready to get married. I’d seen the effects of single motherhood on my own mother and my sister, and I wasn’t willing to do it on my own. For many reasons, abortion wasn’t an option for me. So from the beginning, I knew adoption would be my choice. And from the beginning, Eric has always been my son.