If you haven’t been through the adoption process (and especially through social services) you may think that the process goes something like this: You finish your application and then one day, you get a call telling you to come get your baby. You go get your baby and go home to your new life. I’m sure that does happen with some adoptions, but through social services, it can be quite different. You might be surprised to know that we actually turned down five different children before we accepted D. Often, I think people assume that we are so desperate for a child, that when the call comes in, we jump. And maybe losing our little Isaac affected that spontaneity a little bit, as he was the first placement call we ever had, and we did jump at the chance to take him home. But after being burned, the next calls that came in required a lot more thought and reasoning as to what would be right for us. It is hard to jump in when you know the reality is that you might not get to keep this child. But to keep a long story a little shorter, I want to tell you about the five sweet children that came before D. (I have left out their names here for privacy—you never know who might know them!).
1. Almost a year to the day of losing little Isaac, we got a call about a baby boy who had been removed from his home and was being put into a concurrent planning adoption. I wanted him so much. I had really wanted a baby boy to fill the void of losing Isaac. But, something the social worker said scared us. His mother had almost lost his older sister to adoption because of her drug use and her unwillingness to comply with what the county was requiring. And then, at the last possible time, she pulled it together and got her girl back. And even though that girl was no longer in her mother’s care (her grandmother had guardianship) the county judged each case individually, and she would have the same opportunity with this little boy. Our social worker said something like “I just want to warn you that we think this adoption will go through, but this mother might be slow out of the gate and then pull it together at the last minute.” “Slow out of the gate.” That has stuck with me to this day. There wasn’t even a question. John and I said no, knowing we could just not handle another rollercoaster ride like we had before.
2. Just a couple of weeks later, we got a call about an 18 month old little girl. It was the morning of Christmas Eve 2008 when we went in for the telling (the telling is where you meet with the social workers and they tell you everything they know about the child, and then you decide if you want to move forward). On paper, this looked like a perfect match, and I still can’t tell you why we didn’t take her. The parents’ rights had been terminated. It was zero risk. But, it didn’t feel right. John and I looked at each other and just both knew it wasn’t the child for us. It was a shock for me, as I had so desperately wanted a child, and had hoped one would have already come in the year after we lost Isaac. But, she wasn’t ours. We knew she belonged in to someone else.
3. In March, I was in L.A. working on a project, when right in the middle of it, with the worst timing possible, came the call for a safe surrender baby girl. She had been dropped off at the hospital and we could pick her up the next day from the hospital. I wanted her so badly! I called John and we had several conversations over the course of the next few hours. We had to make a decision fast, as she was an emergency placement. Ann gave us until the next morning. I tried my hardest to talk John into it, but he wouldn’t have it. In hindsight, I can understand and sympathize, but I was so upset at the time. And I was a few hours away, so we couldn’t discuss it face to face (which might have been a blessing!). He just felt it was too risky. In California, safe surrender moms get a bracelet with their baby’s information on it, and they have a window of time to come back and change their minds. And even if the paperwork gets filed to terminate the rights, I’ve been told that until it’s all final, that they have a good chance of being able to get that baby back. And with an unknown father, who might become aware of his baby being born in the near future, there were just too many risks for John. I made him call Ann and tell her we weren’t taking her. I was too heartbroken to make the call. We worked through it, but it was one of the bigger arguments we’d had in a while.
4. & 5. The last two kids were a sibling group we were offered the same month D was born, unbeknownst to us. It was May, and we got the call about a 1 ½ year old little girl and her 2 ½ year old brother. I was really excited at the opportunity for two! I mean, let’s just get on with building our family already! Oddly enough, even with the risks, John and I were both immediately on board and excited. They had been in the system for a year after being removed from their home because of domestic issues, and their accessibility to drugs. The father was in prison, and I don’t remember what was going on with the mother. We did the telling and saw their sweet little pictures. We were given the weekend to decide, and one of the things you are required to do before deciding to move forward is talk to the child’s (or childrens’) foster mom so you are fully aware of their current state and any difficulties they may be having. Well, to condense the story, the foster mom told us she didn’t think the children’s grandparents were aware they would be going up for adoption and that there might be a problem there. So, we addressed this issue with the social worker, who in turn did some research and found out that there was some planning in place by family members to place these kids with a friend, should they ever be placed for adoption. It was a big mess, so we pulled out until it was all sorted out. They told us that if they came back up for adoption after everything was sorted out, that we would be the first couple they called, but for now, we were back on the list again. We were pretty sad about it. I was really excited to welcome two kids home, even though I knew it would be a challenge, to say the least. But it wasn’t meant to be.
About six weeks later, at the beginning of July, we got THE call—the one that would ultimately give us our sweet little boy. Seven children later (including our little Isaac) we finally got to keep one—the one meant for us. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and even though we didn’t take these five kids, I know even having the chance to think about them and their circumstances blessed our lives in some way. I still think about all six of those sweet, innocent children, all caught in some kind of craziness that never was their fault. I wonder what their lives are like today, and wish the best for them. I hope we don’t have to wait through six more children before we get the next one, but if we do, I know we’ll learn great lessons from them, too.
****ADDENDUM*** This addition to this post was inspired by Kristina's comment below. One of the things that comes with being open about adopting is the regular "offers" to take a baby. Sometimes it's a birthmother's well-meaning friend or family member, or someone that just hears about a situation, but I'm not sure I can even remember how many times someone contacted us about taking a baby and it fell through every time. I know it's a difficult decision for birthmothers, but it is also difficult being on the other end thinking you are going to get a baby, and then suddenly the rug is ripped out from under you at the last minute. I learned quickly to be cautiously optimistic. I always expressed interest, but knowing how many of these never come to fruition, I learned to not even get excited. I would just say, "let me know when the baby arrives and they are signing the papers." We had a sister of a coworker, friends of friends, a phone call with a birthmother the day she gave birth swearing we were the ones and less than 24 hours later a family member had taken her and we never heard from anyone again. We had one that wanted us to come to the doctor's visits and be a part of everything, but we had just lost our first baby and I had reason to suspect she wasn't all that sure about this decision, so a few months after saying we would wait until later in the process, we never heard anything else again (I'm pretty sure she kept that baby). We had friends with more distant connections to a birthmother....oh, if I had a dollar for every time someone was absolutely sure we were getting that baby....well, I'd have a little extra spending cash. So, I suppose it's not just the baby we lost and the five we didn't get to take home for different reasons--there are more babies out there who taught us lessons and were a part of this process. At least a dozen, and if I stopped and really thought about it, probably more. Patience is a virtue, right? I still try to be optimistic, but sometimes it's hard to not get annoyed when someone is so sure that a baby is coming to us and just can't understand why we aren't thrilled. They will continue to insist it will happen and want us to get excited. Believe me, when it happens, no body will be more excited than I will be, but I can't live on the edge of those emotions 24/7, so I hope you will understand if I temper my excitement until the baby is in my arms and the papers are signed. And then I can afford to break down and cry with happiness.