After the press conference promoting San Diego County Adoptions concluded, my boss asked to see a picture of the adoptive mom’s children.
The pictures of beautiful waiting children through the county’s Heart Gallery program surrounded us. The pictures would tour the county’s libraries to promote the county’s adoption program. One picture of a young boy captivated me (above).
Kim, the adoptive mom, reached into a bag and pulled out – not a wallet – but a 8 x 10 framed picture of sisters, 7-year-old Melody and 6-year-old Valina, with her and her husband.
She beamed with pride as Pam asked about the little girls. The new mom shared their personality differences and her 2 1/2 year process to complete the adoption.
“They’re beautiful,” Pam said, showing the picture around to the library director and others.
“They’re my whole life,” the new mom responded.
I turned to my co-worker Jill, who knew of my infertility struggles: “I’m going to adopt.”
A few weeks later, I found myself on my fourth jury duty and unable to locate a parking space at the El Cajon Courthouse.
Luckily, as a county employee, I could park at the county’s Health and Human Services Agency building nearby, which just happened to be the child services office.
After the court released me and the remaining jurors, I marched right into the child services office.
“Do you want to foster a child?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t think I could give a child back.”
The idea of mothering a child that could be returned to birth parents or extended family seemed too difficult.
I came home with information for Brian. A letter would soon come in the mail with some upcoming adoption/ foster care orientation meetings. We would simply pick one, attend and the process would begin.
When the letter arrived, I felt some dread. The adoptive mom at the press conference said it took 2 1/2 years and in some cases, adoptive parents foster a child first. We had already been trying for more than 2 years and I was eager to move forward.
A light bulb went off and I recalled that my dear friend, Barry, told me years earlier that he adopted his daughter after I said how much she resembled his wife (I still think she does).
I fired off an email and asked how he adopted: through the public county agency, a private agency, an adoption attorney? Was it open, closed, semi-open?
He soon wrote back and offered to speak with me. He and his wife went through open adoption through an independent facilitator at Adoption Center of San Diego. Little did I know, it was the very same organization that fasciliated the adoptions of five other couples I knew.
I immediately took his offer and explored the company’s website.
Open adoption seemed weird.
All the parties know each other, they meet before the child is born and essentially, select each other. Though I longed to adopt, a birth mother carrying a child for nine months knowing someone else would parent it felt odd to me.
The day I was to speak to Barry, I had my questions written out. A million butterflies clanged around inside.
“Do you know what open adoption is?” he began.
I gave a very basic response that all parties know each other and disclose pertinent details (medical history, racial and ancestral information, etc.).
But, as he explained it, the relationship could vary from the vary basic (meet before the birth, relinquish rights, occassional correspondence) to very close (meet and become friends, stay friends with the birthmom after the birth, visit in person regularly).
His experience tended to swing more to the “very close” with his birthmother. But as his birthmother grew up and had a family of her own, the relationship loosened up some and visits over 10 years became less frequent.
Along with all the other open adoption aspects come the standard legal requirements for the signing over of parental rights to the adoptive parents, background checks, character references and the home study, when the county performs an inspection of the home.
It all begins with the orientation, a follow-up one-on-one with the fascilitator and then, the Dear Birthmother letter introducing yourself to potential birthmoms.
While its a much faster process, its also a much more costly option than public county adoptions. The nonprofit bases all the possible associated costs on a sliding scale according to income – anywhere from $15,000 to $22,000.
Gulp. That’s a sizeable bite.
While most of the birth parents are just birth moms, there are some couples and not always the stereotypical teenagers. The reasons they seek to place their children through adoption are as varied as adoptive couples’ reasons to adopt.
“Don’t think for a second they’re ‘giving up’ their children,” Barry said. “It’s a tough decision and they are trying to find the best possible couples to parent their child.”
From start to finish, his adoption took a few months (not years).
I grew very excited and took all my notes home for Brian.
The range of the relationship spectrum with the birthmother concerned Brian. There’s no way of knowing how close the relationship might be and what constitutes sufficient contact (birthday parties, Christmas, or the annual picnic hosted by the organization).
I shared my plans with my current and former bosses, both of whom responded to my emails in mere seconds with the kind of loving support you would expect from your parents. Very touching.
I reached out to another Adoption Center couple and this time, I spoke to the mom. She’s also a friend whose first adoption fell through; a possibility that gave me pause despite knowing it worked out well in the end.
Mindy immediately agreed and we met a week before our orientation meeting for coffee.
After catching up on the latest political happenings, we dove into the topic she and I had been discussing for years: motherhood.
We first met nearly six years ago when the baby itch hit her hard. She spoke at a club I presided over and during a meeting break, I asked how her job with the governor was treating her.
“Some days, I just want to give it up, stay home and have babies,” she said very matter-of-factly.
Months later, her husband told me they were having a hard time conceiving. I was heartbroken for them.
She felt she waited too long and devoted too many years to her career. She even toyed with writing a book on the subject (which I still think is a good idea).
A few years later, here we were in the same boat.
I remember when their first adoption fell through. An email popped into my mailbox explaining to their friends and family what had transpired to handle all questions at once.
Then, just a few months before the Presidential Election, another email arrived.
They were the proud parents of a baby boy! A few days later, I met tiny Zach at a Cindy McCain event in Coronado. Love at first sight.
The successful adoption match took place in a matter of days.
“We met on a Thursday, we liked each other and the process was under way,” she said. “Zach was born the next week.”
My mouth hung open.
“I know,” she said. “But we already had much of the other requirements done.”
Her relationship with the birth mother also contrasted Barry’s and has been nearly non-existant since the birth.
She pulled out a picture book of Zach. At 2 years old, he was quite the charmer.
Mindy sits on a board for a foster care organization that tries to reunite children removed from the home with biological parents, if possible.
“In the middle of all this fertility and adoption stuff, here I am reading cases of parents putting out cigarettes on their babies,” she said. “Some of those babies never attach, never get held and feel loved. They grow up dysfunctional.
“The world needs good mommies,” she said.
I looked forward to my orientation the next week and felt like I belonged for the first time in a few years.
As you grow up, you find ways to feel connected to those around you – learning to drive, turning 18 and 21, graduating college, traveling, weddings and marriage and finally, parenthood.
My girlfriends who conceived spontaneously will luckily never knew the pain of my struggles. As a result, they can’t relate to my experiences anymore than I can relate to theirs.
Mindy and I laughed about knowing more than anyone should about conception, drawers filled with testing sticks and that day when you find an old birth-control pill packet and toss it away.
When she decided to adopt, she said it felt like a weight lifted off her shoulder and knew then it was right.
Like magic. Like love. Like faith.
As my girlfriend Erin W. keeps reminding me, no one way to become a mom is easier than any other.
You have to take risks, and you have to be brave.
Learn more about foster and adoption services:
*Not Quite Dickens: Part III will examine our orientation meeting.