November is National Adoption month. I am an adoptive parent and I had no idea that the institution of adoption had its own month. I admit that sounds sad, but it is pretty much how I feel about it. Don’t get me wrong, I am a staunch advocate and true believer in adoption, but I don’t feel like it is so out of the ordinary that it would get its own month. It is so much a part of my family life that it is not something we think about every moment.
They aren’t my adopted children, they are my children. I don’t love my adopted children with every fiber of my being . . . I simply love my children with every fiber of my being. However, there was a time when I wasn’t thinking about adoption so I realize how other people might not think of it immediately as an option. There are many, many children out there that need to be somebody’s children so anything that can make more people aware of the adoption possibilities is a very good thing.
There is no right way to adopt. There are as many different stories as there are adoptive families. We have two wonderful stories. Charlie’s adoption was very different than Elijah’s but neither were really unusual. But before you can walk the adoption road, you have to know it is there.
My wife is unique in that she considers all apparent options in a situation before taking action. We knew early in our relationship we wanted children and adoption was every bit as much of an option as the biological route. I had never thought about adoption very much, but was not at all against it. I had a child by a previous marriage and frankly never thought I would have other children. Life is funny sometimes.
It turns out that many organizations want a couple to be married before they start the adoption process. Not all of them, but a lot. The organization most accessible here in Fairbanks is one of those that want the couple to be married. We thought that getting an early start on the process would be a good idea. We were politely told by this faith-based organization to come see them after we were married.
My son Parker was all for a sibling. He wasn’t really interested in waiting until the wedding. Just after we were engaged we were eating dinner one evening when Parker made an announcement.
“I want a baby brother or sister,” he said.
“Ok,” I said. “We’ve talked about it and we think we will have kids.”
“I know,” he said. “I mean now. I want a brother or sister soon.”
I looked at my fiance and back at Parker.
“Go.” He made shooing motions with his hands. “Go take care of that. I’ll wait.”
Once we were married we decided to try the conventional route to parenthood. It didn’t work out. I won’t go into details, but we didn’t conceive. We don’t know that we can’t, we just didn’t. Like I said before, adoption was always an option for us so we didn’t go to a fertility doctor. We took the adoption route.
The organization that asked us to see them after the wedding welcomed us with open arms. I was surprised that the process was so involved. We started with psychological evaluations. We both had to talk to a counselor, as did my son. There were physicals and home visits and lots of questions.
“Why do want to be a parent?” You can answer that one in your sleep right? OK, now imagine you don’t know the person asking it and you believe that your answer will generate a score that may or may not be high enough for you to adopt a child. You can imagine the pressure. Of course the answer doesn’t generate a score. There is no scoring processs. There are no right or wrong answers. They are just asking questions. Even though most of the stress was self-generated, we still felt it.
In reality, now that I am on this side of it, the process, though intense at the times, was not especially rigorous. It gave me a good insight into myself as a person and a parent. One question that made me think was, “Would you consider adopting a child of a different race?”
This is a highly personal choice for adoptive parents. For me that answer came quickly and easily. Absolutely. I looked at it this way: If a child I adopt isn’t carrying my DNA, then why would I be concerned about race? I mean if the child had my wife’s DNA, then I would really prefer that it carry mine also. But the point is that once we let go of the biological connection and choose to love a child that God has placed with us, then, for us, race has no room in the discussion.
We were approved for adoption and placed on the organization’s waiting list. In our area, the wait can take years. We looked around and my wife found Lifetime Adoption, an organization that matches adoptive parents with birth mothers. These people were incredible and we would use this organization for both our children.
We finished the initial process in a few weeks and on the 23rd of the month we were placed in the pool of prospective parents. The next day our representative called us and asked us if were would be interested in talking to a woman who was due on the first of the next month. The birth mother had made the adoption decision late in her term wanted to talk to parents immediately. She called later that day and we talked for 3 hours. She admitted that she initially had reservations about placing her baby with a white couple, but she felt that we were the right ones. At the end she said she would call our representative and tell her she wanted us.
We told Parker, then 14, that the adoption was happening. He and his best friend Dylan were laying on couches in our family room, watching TV and relaxing as only teenage boys can. We told him that his brother would be African-American. He knew it would be a possibility.
“You’re ok with that, right?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “Of course.” He looked at me like I was bothering him.
We started to leave when Dylan spoke to Parker without moving from his reclined position or taking his eyes off the TV. “Dude,” he said. “Your baby brother is going to be black.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Dylan nodded. “That’s pretty cool.”
“Yeah,” Parker agreed. “Way cool.” At 14 that passed as a ringing endorsement from the boys. They just didn’t get too excited about little things like the racial aspect of a little brother. He was getting a little brother and that’s all that mattered.
Everything happened so fast that we were completely unprepared. We bought a few necessities and tickets to her hometown. We travelled immediately so we could be there in case the baby was early. Charlie was not early. He was born eight days late.
Eli’s adoption was more typical. We went through an intial process and were placed in the pool of prospective parents. Our information was presented to young ladies regularly but there were no calls. Nine months later we got “the” call. Again after a lengthy phone conversation, the young woman called our representative and asked that we adopt her baby.
People notice my family when we are out and about. Sometimes they pretend not to, but they do. An African-American child and a bi-racial child calling two white people mommy and daddy puts the fact that we took a non-tradtional route to parenthood right on the table. Most people have questions. Sometimes they ask sometimes they don’t.
“So, was it cheaper to adopt a black kid?”
I choked on my ramen noodles at work during lunch one day not long after adopting Charlie. The question came from a co-worker who meant well but wasn’t good at expressing himself. “Do you mean was he on sale?”
“No,” he sputtered, suddenly very aware of what he was saying. “I mean, were there rebates . . . I mean . . . did you get money from the government . . .”
This wasn’t getting any better. I’d known this man for years and he was a decent guy, just not the best conversationalist. “Do you mean were there grants available for promoting adoption?” He nodded and we discussed grants that were available for adopting children of all ethnicities.
Some questions are just bizarre. When Charlie was about two we took the family to Disney World. We were staying the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The lodge is decorated in an African style. The staff includes several people from African countries. These people help teach visitors about African culture and customs.
Charlie and I were sitting in a quick service restaurant near the pool waiting for the rest of the family to come with food. A staff member, who turned out to be from Cameroon, was looking at us with interest.
“Excuse me,” she finally said. She nodded at Charlie. “Is that your baby?”
“Yes,” I smiled. “He is.”
“Are you sure?”
“Uhh, Yes I am.”
She looked at me closely. She seemed to be pondering something. “Is your wife black?”
More pondeing. “Did you go to the pool?”
Charlie was wearing only swim trunks. The towels in the chair next to me indicated that my garb was swimming attire and not an otherwise dismal fashion statement. “Yes, we were at the pool?”
“Do you think,” she asked, “that when you were at the pool, that maybe you got the wrong baby by mistake.”
I turned and studied Charlie for a moment. “Charlie, who is this?” I asked and pointed to myself. “DADDY!” he exclaimed through a mouthfull of crackers. He smiled big.
“Nope,” I said. “He’s mine.”
She nodded and looked at me suspiciously. Later I saw her talking to her manager and pointing in our direction.
Don’t get me wrong, most people just take a quick look and move on. We do get questions and most of them are sensitive and well asked. We won’t be adopting again, but we use the organization that got us started for other services. I love seeing parents starting the process that will make them adoptive parents, but more importantly will make them mommies and daddies.
Happy National Adoption Month and thanks for reading. We’ll see you soon on This Side of the Diaper.