Part III in my series on adoption.
When I burst into the adoption orientation, my heart was pounding.
Mostly because I was late, late, late. Seems I’m late to everything these days, especially to the finish line of the mommy race.
Suddenly, I realized that unlike the four other couples seated around the conference table, I was wearing a business suit. The facilitator Sarah greeted me with a smile.
“Barry called the other day,” she said, almost before I sat down beside Brian. “Thought I might have already met you, but I’m glad to meet you now.”
I quickly scanned the room and felt burning questioning eyes upon me.
“Yes, well, it seems we know a lot of the same people,” I said.
After learning about the process from the outside through the trusting eyes of my friends, Barry and Mindy, I sat in the room they once sat in looking across a long conference table at other people like us – childless.
Sarah opened up the meeting by asking us to speak to one other person and share our story. It was a way for us to feel connected, maybe not feel so alone or odd in a world dominated by the happily fertile.
I turned to my right and met Jeff. He and his wife, a slight woman, went through Hell to get pregnant with their first daughter six years ago. Then, they faced the assisted reproduction process all over again. Finally, they were exhausted and decided it was time for another option.
He spoke softly and looked defenseless, raw. He and his wife wore their stress, their sadness, their longing like soaked heavy blankets from their thin frames.
We soon moved on to a topic he more enjoyed: his landscaping business.
The couple on the end seemed the youngest of the group. They were perky, cheerful and unlike the other couples, were eager to start the process without knowing a single thing more than what they knew when they arrived.
“Can we start tomorrow?” he asked at one point.
A third couple diagonal from me were slightly older than Jeff and his wife. In their household, she was the one who resisted adoption.
“She’s a school teacher,” it was explained, as rivers of tears flowed from her eyes. “She sees kids all day and for her, it was important to have a baby of her own.”
The couple directly across from us met later in life at a sporting event. He seemed gregarious and she, a quiet wallflower. She looked at once hurt and relieved when Sarah explained that she has limits on the age of her couples, which we all qualified to meet. Whew!
Sarah detailed the various forms of adoption for both international and domestic.
Her nonprofit, Adoption Center of San Diego, offers independent adoption. She facilitates the adoption between birthparents and adoptive parents, suggests though doesn’t mandate any particular adoption attorney to handle the legal matters, offers counseling both to birthparents and adoptive parents, and makes the connection with the county for the home study visit after the baby is born and home with the adoptive parents.
In theory, any couple could arrange such an adoption with a willing birthparent, an attorney, and a home study appointment. However, Sarah’s 17 years of adoption matching does seem to suggest she knows what she’s doing. That, and I had seen the results of her successful matching for my friends.
She showed us a video of some of her matched birthparents and adoptive parents with the children. I had watched it online before the meeting, but the school teacher clearly had not. In a few minutes, the tissues on the table of hardly touched food was passed her way.
I recognized several of the interviewed adoptive families, and one new one that I somehow overlooked before. I learned forward, looked at Sarah and she mouthed: “I thought you would know them too.”
Most of the birthparents were actually single birthmoms. The ages ranged from 16 to 36. Sarah said her oldest birthmother was 44. In each instance, the reasons to place for adoption was different.
One 20-year-old single mom already had a baby and was unable to care for another. Another 36-year-old single birthmom always wanted to be a mom, but her partner left her alone without means to care for her baby.
One of the birthmoms sat beside her adoptive mom and explained why she felt good about her decision: “She told me that I gave her this great gift, but she was the gift. I don’t have to worry that my baby will grow up in a good home.”
The rounds of questions began post video.
The number of birthmothers who change their minds? In nearly two decades, less than 10.
How close are you with birthmoms after the birth? Really up to you and the birthmom, but communication before the adoption can deliniate your path.
Then, the school teacher’s husband asked: “How many of the birth dads have contested custody?”
Sarah looked around at the men: “None.”
“You’re surprised?” she asked. “I’m not sure why they don’t, but I’ve thought about this over the years. I think if they had other options, I probably wouldn’t get a phone call.”
Then, Sarah explained her “funnel” theory.
You take all the potential qualities of a child: race, sex, mental/ emotional/ physical disabilities, fetal drug or alcohol exposure. From that, you determine the width of your funnel. The less restrictions, the wider your funnel and the more likely you’ll be matched sooner than those with a more narrow funnel.
I considered my funnel as we wrapped up the three-hour session. Could I care for a disabled child? What about a child exposed to alcohol or drugs? Would a child of a different race face social problems?
I realized that I wasn’t prepared to define my funnel.
A funnel. Not something I dreamed about when I wanted to be a mom.
I did dream of how I could deliver the news: a romantic card to my mate asking what they were doing on the due date. I even imagined the dinner scene and maybe I’d even tape the positive testing stick inside the card (cleaned, of course).
Then, just as we were about done, Sarah passed out her fee sheet.
And that’s when I almost passed out.
Based on our income, her new fees could be $20,000 to $25,000 depending on the additional cost I had not considered (care of the mother). That was roughly $5,000 to $10,000 more than we expected and even then, we would be tight.
The federal government allows for an adoption tax credit of nearly $14,000 and the Navy reimburses costs up to $2,000 for Brian. But much like my college years, the feds just don’t quite get me there.
Still in the fog of sticker shock, Brian and I discussed the matter over a beer. We were excited to be parents and we wanted a baby. But like the rest of America, we have to be financially smart during the economic downturn. Neither of us expected income increases anytime soon and our safety net funds would need to grow by leaps and bounds to swing it.
As the weeks wore on after orientation, our hope peaked and valleyed.
We continued to save as much as possible and reviewed the after-orientation meeting letter from Sarah. The next step would be to sit down with her for an in-depth meeting to discuss our path.
What to do? Continue saving and hope for a windfall? Reconsider that path and attempt to navigate the County adoption process hoping its less than the average 2 year wait? Go back to fertility treatments and roll the dice while Brian’s Navy care could pick up those heavy costs?
Two weekends ago, I went to my third baby shower of the year (a fourth happened last weekend out-of-state). I tooled around the Babies ‘R Us seeking out registry items, something I’m becoming more proficient at than wedding registries, when I saw this young pregnant woman with her little girl in the shopping cart.
As they passed by, the little girl smiled and waved at me. I returned the gesture.
The next day, I sat besides my girlfriend Erin H. at our girlfriend’s baby shower while she breastfed her newborn, Lily. She, like our many other friends, asked about our adoption plans. I told her where we were and from the outside, it sounded like I had it all figured out.
Really, I still felt like Alice dashing through limbo asking the Cheshire Cat for directions with the clock-ticking White Rabbit ushering me to hurry, hurry, hurry.
Two days later, a fifth friend announced her pregnancy. I congratulated her and then, I checked my watch.
“I have to go. I’m late for a meeting.”