My husband and I were in our early thirties, ecstatically married, in love with our life, and very aware of the many ways it would be turned upside down if we had kids. So we debated it. A lot. I’ll spare you that part of the story, but suffice it to say it was a fraught and lengthy process. In contrast, the decision to adopt was nearly instantaneous. We spent years deciding whether or not to have children. We decided to adopt literally in the next breath. We wanted to be parents, and we knew there were lots of kids out there who needed parents, and so instead of making a new one, we decided to have one of those. It seemed like a good match.
It proved, in fact, to be quite a bit more complicated than that. It’s not that there aren’t millions of kids in this country and around the world who need but do not have parents. There are. Many millions. But finding them and bringing them home is much, much easier said than done. Thankfully. Regulations and restrictions on all sides, endless paperwork and background checks and home studies and fees, all do their best to keep everyone protected — kids, birth parents, and adoptive parents. We’re talking about humans after all. We all want the movement of children from home to home and family to family to be fair, safe, and in everyone’s best interests. What this means in practice though is that finding kids who need parents is hard. Again, it’s not, unfortunately, because the number of kids needing parents is small; it’s because the number of kids eligible for adoption is functionally small.
So functionally small, in fact, that for a while we thought it couldn’t be done. There were lots of options, but none felt like quite the right fit for us. There are lots of complex, unknowable, often heartbreaking issues involved with adoption, much to give a conscientious would-be parent pause, and we didn’t want to ignore them or turn a blind eye or compromise just because we were impatient to begin what we knew was often a very lengthy process. We researched dozens of options, countries, and agencies. We considered domestic and international, special needs and older kids, open and closed, local and around the world. We met with social workers, agency directors, adoptive parents, adopted kids, intake folks. We joined online groups and read blogs and book after book after book. We despaired. And then finally we found the path that was right for us: a local charity that partners with an agency in South Korea to place a small number of children with families in our area.
The first time we met with this organization, though we didn’t know it until months later, was the day the birth mother of our child placed her for adoption, the day after she was born. We brought her home nine months (to the day) later — just like being pregnant (but with more wine). In between, we wrote essays, took classes, did homework, filled out forms, submitted to fingerprinting, authorized background checks, notarized paperwork, opened our home to social workers, and wrote lots of checks. We also bought a crib and changing table, baby sheets, clothes, diapers, car seats, bottles, toys, and everything else. We also fretted and anticipated and hoped and dreamed and got the last sleep we’d see for months and months.
Adoptions are unpredictable. Some mothers deliver prematurely; most do so around forty weeks, so they know more or less when. We had no idea when. All that fall and winter, we waited and waited and waited for news that we’d been matched with a baby in Seoul. That happened just after the first of the year when suddenly we had pictures, a name, some birth family history, and an actual child. For about thirty seconds, we felt relief. Then we went back to being mired in waiting. All that spring, we didn’t know if we were three months pregnant or six months or nine. We didn’t know if they would call tomorrow or next week or six months from now. We waited and waited and waited some more. Then one Tuesday morning in late April, our social worker called and said get on a plane and go to Seoul and pick up your baby. Now.
My husband and I had our last days and hours just as two, and then our first hours and days and weeks and months as three. And our baby had her last days as a full time resident of her birth country, her last hours with the foster mother with whom she’d lived since she was six weeks old, and her first moments with us during which tears were shed on all sides and she officially joined the family she’ll be part of forever.
The prescribed position on adoption these days is often to label it tragic for all parties — for the birth mother who longs to keep her child but cannot, for the child who would be better off with his/her biological family and in his/her country or community of birth, and for the adoptive parents who would rather raise their genetic offspring but have settled for adopting because they are unable to have children “of their own.” This last does not apply to me and my husband. So far as I know, we could get pregnant and have a baby (I can’t be sure because we’ve never tried), but because I know one leg of that trilateral assumption to be false, I have had to question the first two points as well.
The day we became a family in Seoul, we were not without our share of losses, but we were a long way from tragedy. I did not settle for adoption; I chose it. I will never know what was going on in my child’s birth mother’s head or heart or life, but I am hopeful that wasn’t tragedy either. Certainly it’s possible she desperately wanted to keep her baby and could not. But it seems just as possible to me that she chose this path eagerly as I did, that this was a decision about which she perhaps felt conflicted, even heartbroken, but which allowed her to begin a new life or return with relief to an old one. And as for our baby, she suffered some losses balanced by tremendous gains. No one can say which life would be better. But we are making this one pretty wonderful. I reject the idea that it’s always better to be with your biological parents, that traditional families are the only ones that count, that being different weakens rather than strengthens a child’s heart. I reject the idea that blood and biology are always preferable. There are so many ways to be a family, to love a child, and the more accepting and welcoming we all are of all of those ways, the stronger and wider and fuller and better all our lives and all our families become.
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