Thursday, January 29, 2009

Choices, choices, choices.

We got home pretty late Saturday night after day of non-stop movement. My eyes were heavy and I was already feeling anxious about getting some sleep before another early day on Sunday. But that feeling evaporated when Andrew pulled a large thick envelope out of the mailbox. "Is that our acceptance package?!" I said as I snatched it away from him and tore it open. Indeed it was: two more thick stacks of papers to sign and several smaller packets of information on each of the agencies that we have the option of sending profiles to through WACAP. Sleep was off the table for a while. Somewhere in these papers was our next step towards meeting our son or daughter!

Paperwork is never fun. Adoption paperwork is no different. But looking through the various agencies that we can choose to have our profile sent to brought up all sorts of new questions for us, as well as bringing back - again - many old ones around the ethics of adoption, of transracial adoption and the various means available to get us to our desired end of building a transracial family. I'll tell you right now that I don't have answers to those questions, nor do I expect to. But it's good to keep them alive, regardless. Not that currently we have choice.

Money is a big one, of course. We're running on a limited amount of personal funds, propped up by a generous family, and adoption isn't cheap. In some ways this makes it easier. For instance we looked at the prices associated with international adoption and knew immediately that we couldn't swing it. This dismissed us from the responsibility of making that choice based on other factors, and having to really figure out what we felt about the more complicated issues that surround international adoption. Whew. Thanks money! I think I was hoping that money would come along and make things simpler for us with this new decision too, about which agencies of the 15-20 we had to choose from to send our information to. I knew that some of them would be out of our price range, and indeed they were. But most weren't. As we flipped through the information, however, we ran into two main things that pricked at our sensibilities. First- the direct relationship between race and adoption costs. One agency's placement fee for a full african american baby is $5000 less than a baby who is half black and half white. Their form has the adoptive parent fill out exactly how much African American they are willing to adopt, down to 25%. It was creepy.

I know that they do this not because those babies are "cheaper." Adoption isn't selling babies. There are just a lot of costs involved, legitimate costs. The agency is being honest about which babies are harder to place, and taking hits to provide financial incentives for those children. I get it. But it still freaks me out. What does it feel like for people applying to adopt to look at that and make the decision to ante up the extra five grand? What does it say about our country that so many people who adopt care so very much about the race of their child? We ended up not choosing that agency, at least not right now. I want to be able to be up front with our child about all the details of his or her adoption, and I don't know how I'd feel explaining that he or she came at a discount.

Then there was the Christian agency that required a "statement of faith." Initially I thought, no problem! I'm a Christian, I have a statement of faith! Heck, I've been writing various drafts of my spiritual autobiography for the past two years in my discernment towards priesthood, and now again as I apply to seminary. I hate to brag, but I'm pretty awesome at my statement of faith. But Andrew didn't like it.

"Why do they need that?" He asked. "I don't know if I want to submit my personal beliefs to be judged, even if they would pass."

And the more I thought about it, the more I felt like he was right. Could I look my kid in the face someday and say that we built our family with a group of people who would have rejected a potential loving parent because they don't agree with that person's religion, marital status, or sexuality? Maybe I could. But I don't know that I'd want to. I understand other people making that choice, and have no judgement for it. But it is not who we are, or reflective of values that we want to build our family on.

"Man," I said late that night, sitting in bed surrounded by paperwork. "This is tricky. I don't want to shut us out of the opportunity to get a baby as soon as possible, but I also want to be very intentional about the choices we make right now." I moved the Georgia agency from the maybe to the no pile, and picked up the yes pile to flip through it one more time. Maybe we could work with the one from New Jersey. "After all, we are potentially going to have some sort of relationship with this agency for the rest of our lives. Plus, we want to have a relationship with our baby's birth family, and if they are expecting their child to be placed in a super dogmatic religious home we'd be fooling ourselves to think they'd pick us, so maybe it doesn't matter. Am I over thinking this??" I looked to my husband for a response.

"mmgreph." He responded wisely from deep under the covers. Moving with the careful slowness of someone who has already given himself up to sleep he reached across me and tenderly turned out the light.

"So," I said to the darkness, Andrew's breathing already slowing down, "that's a yes then?"

Friday, January 23, 2009

the dreaded homevisit

I love medical dramas, and there is currently a storyline on one of my favorites, House, that I've been watching with more interest and amusement than usual. The hospital administrator, Dr. Cuddy, is a single woman in her 40's whose biological clock has been ticking the entire show. It's not a major plot line, but in the last five seasons she has gone through fertility treatments, and slyly interviewing colleagues as potential sperm donors. Last season her in vitro failed and she signed up with an adoption agency. In typical movie fashion (i.e. not at all what would happen in real life) Cuddy met (alone!) with a potential birthmom at a coffee shop, and they decided it was a match. Since it's a medical show the unlikely scenario that unfolded involved the birth mother contracting a rare medical condition, the baby nearly dying, and in the end the mother deciding to keep the baby after all, devastating Dr. Cuddy. But! Lo and behold just a few episodes later the POW (Patient of the Week, in House-speak) turned out to be a teenager who had just given birth and then conveniently, and tragically, died. Cuddy became the foster mother of the newborn. Because it's t.v. she apparently did this all off-screen, without a homestudy visit, and this week found her frantically trying to get ready for her social worker to come see her house for the first time, while also learning to be a mother and trying to run a hospital whose most famous doctor is a bit of a soulless rogue (that would be the main storyline on the show).

I had to laugh at much of this drama, but no one who has signed up to be an adoptive parent wouldn't cringe in sympathy with Cuddy's anxiety over that first visit by the social worker. Her house is a mess, her baby is screaming, and she is terribly worried that they'll take the child away. The social worker, however, isn't phased. He tells her, basically, that she's a stable person with good income and the sense to be ashamed of a messy house and that's better than he can say for a lot of people out there.

That's the part of the story that really does ring true.

Home visits are terrifying. Even after writing copious amounts of personal information down on paper, giving away our social security numbers, bank account balances, and credit reports, the home visit seemed like possibly the most judgmental and invasive part of the homestudy process. In my online adoption buddy group this is the part that most of us are most keyed up about. Just today there was a discussion by one woman who is getting ready to schedule hers about whether or not to hire professional cleaners.

Andrew and I were no different. We didn't hire professionals, but we did scour every inch of our 736 square feet of home. We sorted through closets and tossed out several garbage bags of unnecessaries. Clothes, books, pictures, and a futon all left us never to return. I dusted, and Andrew scrubbed the baseboards. Our cats retreated to their special place under the bed until that, too was disturbed by the vacuum. And, despite all of this my anxiety was pretty high. Where should we put the fire extinguisher? Were two smoke alarms enough? Would she see the mildew stain in the back corner of the bathroom cabinet and think it was black mold? Was it black mold? WHAT IS BLACK MOLD?!?! Andrew - who I must admit did the lion's share of actual cleaning - talked me down from panic more than once during the week-plus of cleaning and prep.

Then the time came, and our experience was a lot like Dr. Cuddy's. And, from the anecdotal evidence I've heard from friends who've gone through it, a pretty typical experience all 'round. Our very nice social worker, a woman about my mom's age, arrived right on time. She ooh'ed and ahh'ed appropriately at my Christmas decorations and noted the smoke alarms and fire extinguisher, which was sitting out on the dining room table for lack of a better place to put it. She suggested we store it under the kitchen sink. And then she was done looking and ready to talk. I had to press to get her to even go in the bathroom. She could not have cared less about the very clean meticulously organized closet. And while she patiently endured my lengthy explanation about just where baby will sleep/play/bathe and my detailed plan for cloth diapering I got the distinct impression that she would have been just fine without them.

Of the three hours that Karen spent in our home, less than fifteen minutes of it was used actually looking at the place. True, it's not very big. But what she was really there for was to spend time with us in our place, to see how we inhabit it, and to find out who we are together. It's a smart move - Andrew is a very different person in a room full of strangers than he is on his own turf. Perhaps I am as well, though I'm not shy in either scenario. We talked about our parents and siblings, about life experiences and how we met and fell in love. She spoke to us separately and together.

So, turns out, the important part of qualifying to be an adoptive parent isn't where you live, or how clean you keep it. Those things are important in their own way. But the real point of the home visit, at least for us, was to give us a chance to examine our own selves, and yet again answer those questions that we'll be working on the rest of our lives about how we live together, why we want another person to join our life, who we are going to be as a family. Even our week long cleaning spree related to this as we sorted through what possessions we really need or want to have around, and what stuff we can get rid of, to make room for someone new.

The main take-away for Dr. Cuddy from her Hollywood version of a home visit was that her standards for herself were a lot higher than those others would hold her to. I bet that's true of a lot of people who adopt - we're forced to put a lot of the stuff biological parents take for granted under a succession of microscopes and really think about what we see there. But the people who are judging us don't expect super-parents to emerge from this process. They're looking for people who are ready to love a kid, who care about bringing that child to a clean, safe place, who are comfortable in their home and their own skins. That's a lot of us, really.

And the long and the short of it, for us, is that we received our final acceptance into the AAI program yesterday. Next time Karen comes to visit us, she'll be visiting a household of three!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hope Hope Hope

I accidentally slept in this morning, waking up less than an hour before our new president would be sworn in. Luckily for me most everyone else I work with was home watching it, so I didn't seem like too much of a slacker. One of my favorite parts of the coverage we watched was when the camera would switch to a room full of people in Philadelphia, also watching the festivities on television. The room seemed to be in some sort of historical building, with the look of a courtroom or church. And the front two rows of seats were filled mostly with young black children, probably a class of some sort. They couldn't have been much older than 1st grade. Andrew and I had to chuckle, because a good number of them were sleepy eyed, nodding off, or totally asleep, slumped against a neighbor or leaning on the pew-like bench in front of them. My first thought was "must be naptime." Who knows how long those poor kids had been sitting there waiting for something exciting to happen and...this was it? Just a lot of shots of a guy in a suit talking? How is that exciting?

Yet I was moved. These kids fell asleep during the inauguration of Barack Obama. To them it was just another time to sit still. Today was hopeful and historic for many, many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that by the time these children graduate high school a black man being president will be old hat, yesterday's news. They will be used to seeing pictures of someone whose skin looks more like theirs than it does like mine going about the business of our nation's highest office. My child will never know a United States where the only presidents have been both white and male. Whatever your politics, that's a reason to hope right there.

Monday, January 12, 2009

time to knuckle down....

Happy New Year to all!

Andrew and I welcomed a new baby niece over the holidays, and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new nephew sometime this week. It all makes me very excited to add to the growing herd of little cousins that should be running around at family gatherings in years to come.

I love resolutions - and personally I have several going for the New Year, but as far as adoption stuff goes we mostly have the big one of adding a child to our family. That may not be realistic, wait times vary so much that we could be holding a baby as soon as March or as late as a year after that, but the next concrete step for us is to complete our profile book and get out there.

A profile book is the document/photo album that is the first peek at us expecting moms will have, and it will contain pictures and descriptions of us, our relationship, our lifestyle and neighborhood, extended family, and our hobbies. It's also a place for us to compose some words just for the reader, about the place she might have in our life going forward if she is the one to choose us. The green piece of paper our agency handed us with advice on putting it together helpfully noted that it should have lots of pictures because the pictures are what will make us stand out from other couples, and most of the expecting moms look at the pictures first. But, the paper continued helpfully, the words will become very important to the woman who eventually does pick us, so they need to stand the test of time as well. Thanks green paper! Message received: this thing better be awesome. No pressure, though!

It is nice to have a project, though. And this one will be fun. I know that fairly soon the book will be finished, the homestudy will be filed, and our profile will be out there. Hopefully we'll also have finances figured out by then, and there will be nothing to do but wait.

And blog, of course.