Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Would you design your child if you could?

I would never have thought to pick out his
specific looks and personality....so I'm
glad you get what you get.
There has been some controversy in the last several years over medical technology that could allow for “designer babies”—babies whose parents may at some point have the ability to choose all aspects of their physical bodies.  If this ever comes to full fruition, and is available to the masses, I wonder how many people will actually take advantage of it.  On one hand, I can understand a woman who has had four girls and desperately wants to have a son using that technology.  I can understand parents who want to avoid having a child with a physical defect or debilitating disease or a genetic disorder.  I understand the desire to have some control in different aspects of our lives.  But on the other hand, I wonder if we have fully considered the ramifications of a Bruce Almighty-esque power in which we, with our short-sighted mortal eyes, forget to consider the long-term effects, dare I say blessings, of coping with, and learning from experiences we might not have chosen.  I know girls that grew up going to church with a down syndrome girl, and I wonder if they would now, as adults, be as caring and compassionate towards those with disabilities (or anyone for that matter) if they had not grown up with her.
Front of the San Diego County Adoptions
application form.
The last thing we had to do before we got back on the list to adopt was to fill out a form, stating what we would and would not accept in a child.  It is an overwhelming task to sit down and check off boxes and fill in blanks making choices about a child that you would not have to, or get to make if you were birthing a child yourself.  I’ve included the front and back of these forms here.  (I've erased our answers, as I feel our choices are personal.)

Back of the San Diego County Adoptions
application form.
On one hand, you want to be open to all children who need parents.  On the other hand, you have a current life to consider.  What is your lifestyle?  Are you physically active?  Do you like to travel a lot?  Do you have the financial security to aid in dealing with a special needs child?  Even though there is a lot of assistance from the county, it won’t cover all the expenses.  Do you have the needs of other children in the home to consider?  After you sort through your own life, then there is the list of medical/behavioral/developmental issues to face.  You answer yes or no, and then are allowed to make notes in the comment section—“mild” or “functioning well” or some other disclaimer to your yes or no answer.  And then there are the list of substances to which this child might have been exposed.  What substance is acceptable?  And what degree of exposure?  And background issues, like if a birth parent had a mental illness or if there had been abuse of any kind.  And how open are you to continuing contact with the birth parents?  Birth grand-parents? Siblings?  And finally, your social worker makes a little note about you, assessing your needs, desires and any other information that will help them to make a good match.  Whew!  
One thing to note is that the county is required to note every little possibility about that child.  For example, if that newborn experiences one seizure, which could have been brought on by a premature delivery or drug exposure, they are required to make a check in the Epilepsy box in their file, noting that they could possibly be epileptic.  Or if they were drooling more than normal, a possible Cerebral Palsy note might be made.  Any little thing has to be recorded in the interest of full disclosure, which I totally understand.  But you can see how that might cause that child, who might actually be perfectly healthy, to be delayed in being placed because there are too many red flags.  Unfortunately, people do return kids during the adoption process, and sometimes, after it’s over, so full disclosure must be made to try to minimize these occurances.

The interesting dichotomy is this.  After we went over all of this in a class once, and we all pondered on what our choices might be and how a birthparent’s mental health might affect our child down the road, the teacher asked this question.  “If I was to tell you a newborn baby had just been safely surrendered at the hospital, how many of you would take him/her?”  Every hand in the room went up.  And yet, with that child, we knew absolutely nothing about their medical or family or drug exposure history.  At least with a child that comes with a large file of information, we have a large file of information.  With that safe surrender child, we don’t even have a name.  And yet, after picking through all the possibilities and being very particular about each aspect of what we would and wouldn't take, we all jumped at the chance to take a newborn without one shred of information.  Maybe it's not fear of the unknown.  Maybe fear of the known is worse.
A common sight--D getting air!
He's teaching me to be fearless.
(A recent photo of him at Sea World)
When I look at my sweet little boy, with his jet black hair, and beautiful skin, and his strong, stocky little body that never seems to wear out, and his funny sense of humor, and his obsession with all things transportation, I know that I’m looking at the tip of the iceberg.  Ninety percent of his life is not showing yet.  I don’t know if he will die tomorrow.   I don’t know if he will get childhood cancer, or have gross motor delays or sustain brain damage when he is twelve and never speak again, or become paralyzed in a bike accident at eight and never walk again.  I don’t know if he will become addicted to drugs as a teenager, or be diagnosed with bipolar disorder or wind up homeless or wind up in prison.  I’m hoping for the best.  I’m doing all I can to protect him and teach him right from wrong and leave no doubt in his mind that I love him, but there are no guarantees.  But, if any of those things happens, will I regret it?  Or will I send him back?  Would you ask that of a biological mother?  Of course not.  I say if you are faced with those choices, make the best, most educated ones you can, and then never look back.  Never, ever look back.

(As always, I love feedback/thoughts!  If you want to read more, check out the list to the right of the most popular posts, including ethnicity in adoption and things not to say to someone who is in the process of adopting.)


  1. Suasn,
    What an amazing question. The funny thing is my 8th grade reading class is reading Flowers for Algernon right now. This story takes the reader through the diary of a mentally challenged man named Charlie Gordon who is about to receive an operation to gain intelligence. We talk about our thoughts before, during, and after the story. What amazing people 14 year olds are as they successfully talk about their beliefs. This reminds of your question. However, I received news on my Graci girl today that made me break down and cry as a mother. First, however, let me explain my 9 year old son. Mahlon "Mojo" is amazing. He was perfect from the minute he was born. He walked, talked, read, added, subtracted, etc, early. He truly should be in 3rd grade due to his birthdate, but I had to send him because he was so outstanding in all areas. He is still an A+ student, an amazing athlete, and a best friend to 15 kids! Everyone loves him. As a mother, I had the false security that I was a great mother! Everything I did was to make him a unique individual who loved to learn and loved life! Take a turn, and there is my Graci Pearl. She was a twin. I lost the twin with her. I had to take medicine all throughout her pregnancy just to keep her. I did not think about side effects. As a mother, you are selfless yet stingy at the same time. This was my little girl, and I had to continue with the pregnancy! She was born extremely healthy! However, at 4 months things seemed to change. She first contracted pneumonia. One month after that, she got RSV. She then had ear infection after ear infections. She had 8 by the time she was 1. By the time she was three, she had 2 sets of tubes, her tonsil and aednoids out. I knew she had a speech problem, and chose to believe it was due to ear problems. About a year ago, however, I started noticing that it took her longer to retain information. I kept trying to blame it on her speech issues. As an educator, I knew there was a learning problem, however, as a mother, I kept thinking I could work miracles to get her over the hump. About 6 months ago, I noticed that she refused to write her name. She is an overly stubborn child, so I assumed she just did not want to do it. However, this kept bothering me. I called to get her evaluated for Occupational Therapy thinking they would tell me that she was fine and I had no reason to worry. Today, they called and said she has major deficiencies in fine motor skills and does need extra help. As a mother, I blame myself for things I have not done, although I am not sure what I could have done to help her. However, to answer your question, knowing how my son has not struggled a day of his life and knowing the struggle Graci has already incurred, I am still unsure if I would change her issues. I truly think this struggle is going to make her one hell of a woman. I believe she is going to be a strong, independent lady. As teacher, this has changed me greatly. I always thought I was compassionate, but seeing Graci truly struggle no matter what I do, I believe I am a teacher who looks at each individual student for what he or she can and cannot do. As educators, we are already supposed to do this, however, this has made me truly understanding towards students and their skills. I believe God gives us lessons all through life. Graci has been an amazing lesson for me. So, after writing a brief novel for you, I would never change her. I cannot imagine how dull our life would be without her! Her strong, independent, stubborness is juxtaposed by her loving, sweet personality who is attached to my hip on a daily basis! She wants mommy before anyone else and loves me unconditionally. Never would I change that! Jami

  2. Jami, What a great story! I was really reading through it as quickly as I could because I was dying to know how you were going to answer the question, and I'm SO glad you answered it the way you did. I kept wondering if you had it to do over, if you would make those changes to make Graci's life (and yours) less complicated by making her free of all those challenges. I love that you can see the lessons and benefits of the challenges for her and you and your family, and even others that she has, and will continue to influence. People ask me sometimes what complications Dylan might have because of his drug exposure. And I say, does it matter? I'm not giving him back, and as you well know, there are no guarantees that your own biological children won't struggle just because you weren't on Heroin during your pregnancy. I am educated about the possible effects of the drugs on Dylan, but honestly, I put it at the back of my mind. I don't want to read every behavior problem or learning disability into his drug exposure. It's there as a resource, and I know where to go to get help if we need it. But to always be saying "oh, it's the drug exposure" everytime he bites or has a meltdown or struggles with something is counterproductive. I have to look at each individual issue as it may (or may not) come and treat that. The drug exposure is done. I don't know if that makes sense. I'm not blind to it, but I will address each problem if it comes. Graci will be so strong, and she will also be compassionate to others who struggle, and that may be one of the greatest gifts she gets out of this. As a teacher, John is much more compassionate to foster kids at school, and that is a gift he has recieved from going through this whole process. It's like all the years of infertility treatments and our failed adoption--I always say I wouldn't wish it on anyone, because it has been so painful. But I wouldn't change it either. I'm a different person for the better because of it. Thanks again for sharing! Great insights. I see your posts a lot, but wasn't aware of exactly what was going on with your daughter, so it's so interesting to hear the story. I always say motherhood is like the Peace Corp slogan--the toughest job you'll ever love!

    1. Susan,
      The fact that God led you to Dylan, means that you are truly blessed. Thank you for letting me share. As I said on my FB post, I had to respond even though I had a sick child in my arms who had the stomach flu for over 24 hours. Isn't it amazing how you would do anything for that child? I believe that God truly leads us down the path the he believes will make the biggest impact on our lives as well as other lives.

  3. Wow, this post really made me think. I plan to adopt later in life and I am about to graduate with a bachelor's degree in Social Work and hope to work with Foster Care, but I never before have thought about all the decisions I'll have to make when I am ready to have children. As I clicked open the application I thought to myself, "well, I'd take any child that didn't have a terminal illness." Then I read the app. Do I really want a child who has sexualized behaviors? Do I really want a child who is predisposed to bipolar disorder or schizophrenia? (these are just examples, clearly this would take a lot of thought and discussion with the future husband). What a journey I have ahead of me! This has inspired me to learn more about adoption; there always seems to be more to learn!

    And, in response to your questions, I'm not a mother so my opinion may not be very valuable, but I can't imagine ever wanting to send a child back. It blows my mind every time I hear of adoptive parents doing that. My aunt was adopted from China. After four years they became pregnant with their own child and gave my aunt up for adoption because they didn't need her anymore. I think that once my precious child is placed into my arms my love for him will be endless. If my child goes through school with straight A's I'll sit in the auditorium and clap as loud as I can as (s)he accepts every degree, and if (s)he struggles with drugs, etc. and ends up in prison I'll write a letter every week reminding him that my love is unconditional, even if I am disappointed. Every struggle is a lesson and every child, biological or not, is a blessing. I could go on and on, but I'll stop there :)

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