Adoption 101: A Tutorial in Heartbreak

So Mary Tyler Dad and I are adopting.  Yes, we surely are!  I've been keeping it on the down low, so this is our official "coming out," if you will.  We are excited, nervous, tentative, joyful -- a lot like we were at the prospect of the birth of our two gorgeous kids.  But now, after our first visit with a prospective birth family, we need to add heartbroken to the list.  The visit was so jarring and hard core, that I write this both for the opportunity to make some order out of chaos, but also to shed light on the bitter and cruel reality of so many of us in America. 

Just four weeks ago, we got a call out of the blue that a birth family, out of state, was looking for the best family for their soon to be born child.  Baby was due in October, but there was some distress in the family and the first family they had interviewed was not a good fit for them.  They were working hard to locate another family that basically "fit" better.  Were we interested in learning more?  Why, yes, yes we were.  BAH!  Because we had recently switched adoption agencies (a long and boring story), we were early in the process of applications and preparing for licensure and home study.  Our adoption counselor was supportive, though, and encouraged us to pursue and explore, confident that all the necessary hoops that adoptive families go through could be complete in time. 

And oy freaking vey, some day I will share more about those hoops.  But not today.

Looking back on this whirlwind four weeks, I am trying to make sense of the timeline and what happened when and how we missed what was so glaringly, patently, sock you in the gut obvious in our face-to-face visit.  It is exhausting.  Our first contact was with the birth grandmother, who was researching adoptions and looking for a family on behalf of her daughter, six months pregnant.  Birth mom has another little one at home, a toddler boy, just 16 months old.  She is 20.  Later, we learned that this is her third child, the oldest is in the care of paternal grandparents.  Birth dad is 30, unemployed, but actively with birth mom and in agreement that they simply can't provide for another child at this time. 

Birth grandmother was our main point of contact, but from the get go, communication was complicated.  Sometimes I hate cell phones, especially in life and death situations.  The cutting in and out while talking about the welfare of a child smacked of the same kind of life and death calls we used to have with our daughter's oncologist.  Those conversations should never be had on a cell phone.  Truth.

What we could piece together in those first few days was that neither parent had a cell phone, the family was in great financial distress, they were living (together?  apart?  who knew?) in sub-standard housing with too many roommates, too many holes, and too many termites, and wanted to move to a safer location.  All of that is not unusual in adoption.  I mean, if you can care and provide for your kids financially, there is really no need to offer them up to another, is there?  Living with that financial reality sucks, for both parties.  You become, in effect, the haves and the have nots.  They have a baby.  They have no money.  We have money.  We have no baby.  You see what I'm getting at?  If you want a crash course in American poverty, go through the adoption process.  It will wake your eyes up and fast. 

Following advice of our counselor, we each arranged for attorneys that were local to the birth family.  One for us, one for them.  What we were told was that the attorney for the birth family would represent the interests and needs of them, while our attorney would do the same for us.  The courts oversee all adoptions, private and public, so all of us were accountable to them.  It seemed clear cut and simple.  State law (mind you, each state is different) allowed for us to cover six months of pregnancy expenses and two months post-pregnancy.  We were skeptical, of course, but assumed that once we were presented with their budget, we would know if this was a scam or not, a money making venture, the baby a commodity traded to the highest bidder.  The truth is, you never know.  You truly never know until a birth mom signs over her child after birth.  It's all a risk, a gamble.  You go all in, and hope for the best.

The first plaintive text came six days after our first contact.  They needed $ and they needed it fast.  No milk for the baby.  No food for the family.  Mama needed a bra.  This creates tension, confusion, fear.  You don't want $ to enter into this conversation, but of course, $ is at the crux of this conversation.  They have none.  They need some.  After consulting some friends who have adopted and our attorney, it was decided and approved that we would wire some cash.  A good faith effort on our part.  An indication, that, yes, we are interested in moving forward and getting to know one another. 

We had a few more conversations, each leaving me excited, hopeful.  We learned the baby was a girl.  We started talking names, tentatively.  And there were signs -- manufactured or not -- they felt like good signs of good things to come.  We learned of the baby the week of Donna's birthday.  The baby was due the week of Donna's remembery.  That's a sign, right?  The Universe is looking out for us!  All was nerve wracking, but good.  So very good.

There were some glitches, of course.  The birth family could not make contact with their attorney quickly, as she was on vacation.  Their first appointment  was scheduled for August 7.  While that made us nervous, we went ahead and purchased air tickets for a visit August 11-12.  The week before, I got a text from birth mom asking that I have no contact with birth grandmom.  Awkward, but understandable.  It felt bad, as she had been my primary contact, but I felt like I had to respect her wishes.  After that exchange, I heard nothing for almost a week.  Radio silence.  I texted and messaged, but had no response.  We came to embrace the thought that this was not happening, not moving forward.  Sadness.  Emptiness. 

And then, the day of the scheduled visit with her attorney, texts!  The family in total had sat down with the lawyer and all was well.  Oh, and they needed money.  Fast.  Could I wire some?  I generally hate the metaphor of  the emotional roller coaster, but damn, do I get it.  Up, down, up, down, twists, turns, up, down.  I have always hated roller coasters.  They scare the brownies out of me.  Elation to hear that the family was still interested in pursuing adoption, confusion and concern that they wanted money.  Again. 

We had naively and ignorantly thought that when the attorneys entered the picture, all the pesky things like budgets and legalities would be off our plate, leaving room to concentrate on getting to know one another.  Except they didn't seem too interested in getting to know us.  I sent photos and a letter introducing our family.  Yeah, no confirmation it was received, or questions about us.  Of course not.  They had no food or roof.  How in the hell were they supposed to care that we value books and cultural opportunities for our little ones? 

With approval from our attorney, we sent more money.  The thought was that since we were moving forward, all of this would be accounted for with living expenses.  No harm, no foul.  A day later, I got another text from birth mom.  She needed more money.  Today.  But not a lot, just a little, enough for an ID so she could pick up Moneygrams (?!?!) and transportation to the doctor.  At first I ignored her request, hoping it would go away.  Then I said no. 

Me feeling pressured by these requests turned into our attorney feeling pressured by these requests, which would turn into her attorney feeling pressured by these requests.  Or so I plotted, thinking that if the lawyers could simply get off their esquire asses, we could establish a budget, bring these repeated requests out on the table, get the family linked to much needed services, and I would stop feeling so oppressed by the gaping needs of this family I had come to care for in so short a time. 

Tomorrow:  The Visit Begins

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  • What??? I have to wait until tomorrow? I'm on the edge of my seat here! Wishing you all the best, and hoping with so much hope that this story takes a happier turn. Thank you for sharing this intimate part of your life with your readers. xox

  • These are the stories that need telling, Annie. Like pediatric cancer, the stories of adoption are too hidden, too remote, someone else's pain. Except they are not. Stay tuned! MTM.

  • In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    It was so beautifully written. My only disappointment is that I must wait until tomorrow to read more. You so had me... if it was a book, I would have motioned for my husband to order carry out while I devoured the whole thing. I will check back tomorrow!

  • DAMN YOU MTM! I want to find out if you are actually adopting the baby or did you get suckered into a scam! UGH!!! I hope for the sake of your family it was not a scam and the little bundle of sugar and spice will be coming home to you!

  • I will not reveal the end of your story, but I am with you every step of the way, as I have been these past four weeks. Love to you! Carrie

  • So much love to you both. Can't wait to read tomorrow's post. xoxo

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    I have a nervousness in my tummy waiting for tomorrow's post. As a woman who has placed a child for adoption, this is not sitting well with me. I'm happy to report my story has a beautiful ending and I have gained a whole new family in the process! I love my son's adoptive family as if they were my own. I do believe things worked out exactly as they should have. Good luck on your journey, MTF!

  • The question of adoption and, indeed, of nurturing children in a global sense is fraught with physical and emotional complexities. Thanks for sharing your experience of this reality

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    Oh MTM I'm on pins and needles and hoping this journey has a happy ending!

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    Emotional roller coaster is an understatement! We adopted both our beautiful daughters, but in the process also experienced two birth mothers who had a change of heart. Both were after the babies were born and we had visited and held in the hospital. One was after us being in the birthing room when she was born. It takes incredible power to go on. But you already know about incredible power. And yes, it's all a learning process. Looking back, we saw the signs that were there, but caught up in the moment you are blind to them. I don't know where this is going at this point, but know that there WILL be a happy ending, and though it may be hard to believe now, when it happens you will never believe that child could belong anywhere but your arms.

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    This is worse than waiting to find out who shot J.R.

    I hope it gets better because right now I have a big ball of "oh crap" in the pit of my stomach.

  • Just when I thought I couldn't love you more!!! This is another side of parenting in America that just doesn't get enough attention. You have such a talent for bringing real issues of our society to light through your writing. Not only are you brave enough to share openly, but somehow you don't make the story all about you (which, of course, IT IS!!) instead, you have a gift for touching readers with your astounding ability to process your personal experiences with kindness and in spirit of helping others. Truly.... if there were twice as many people like you out there, the world wouldn't be half as bad. I wish your family all the good fortune possible with your new journey.

  • As a birth mom, this stuff sickens me. Using your unborn child as a commodity so that you can get quick cash, not cool. When I gave my child up, I asked nothing from the Aparents, except that he know who I was if he ever asked and that I be able to visit (given sufficient notice). I visited once, when the baby was 6 months and decided to let them live their life without my interference. Anyway, not all birth parents are bad. I had a friend who gave her child up around the same time, she encouraged the Amom to try to breastfeed. She was just wanting to give her daughter the best chance. I remember feeling very much like I was giving my child the best shot at living the life he deserved. I think that them constantly wanting money is a big red flag. Isn't that what public assistance is for? Honestly, when that baby is born they can still say no and have taken you for a ride, and it seems like they probably will. It is so very hard because a lot of these birth moms are very young and so impressionable, most come from poverty, blend that together the line between right and wrong becomes very blurred. If I can be of any help let me know, I follow you in facebook and I can send you my private e-mail address. Good luck, I hope from the bottom of my heart that you and your next child find each other without too much more heartbreak.

  • In reply to kris10:

    Oh, Kris, thank you. A hundred thousand thank yous. We are very grateful to have some close friends and family who have adopted and who maintain open relationships with their children's birth moms. We hope for the same for our child. As one of them says, "Why wouldn't you want more people to love your child?"

    Because of the exposure we have had to birth moms, and the stories I have read on a friend's blog, Portrait of an Adoption, I feel like I have a much better appreciation for the choice and sacrifice a birth mom makes in placing her child. That is bravery and courage of the highest order in my book.

    Please stay tuned for the rest of the series. I hope to shed some light on what might lead a birth mom to adoption. Thank you for reading and supporting. MTM.

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    In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    MTM, you are so right regarding birth mothers. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there preying on the fragile emotions of others, but I can tell you that I honor no one higher than the birth mothers of my two girls. The sacrifice they made out of love for their girls to give them a life they could not provide is the ultimate in unselfishness. And in giving us the honor of raising these girls, our lives have also been enriched and our family expanded to include them and their families as well! It's a long journey, and hard to understand until you're living it, but I wish the same thing for you. And like Kris, if you ever want more feedback, I'd be happy to share both the heartbreak and joy we've experienced on a personal level.

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    I too was bummed with the cliff hanger. But fear not as I will be back for the next installment. I'm interested to hear your story to learn more about the process...

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    I can see where this is going. You haven't been around as many desperate, poor, uneducated and unscrupulous people as I have. You poor thing.
    As bad as I fear this tale will be, it does need telling. Good on ya, once again. Lady.

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    I am so on the edge of my seat. I appreciate you sharing such a personal story with us.

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    I don’t think I can stand to hear that you will be disappointed. I know all the other stuff is important for your story telling (which is amazing) but PLEASE make this be a good thing for you and yours. You deserve this miracle.

  • (((hugs))) As a birth mom, I know intimately the heart break of KNOWING that a dearly beloved child will be better off with someone else (my parents adopted my daughter - who has some special needs - as a grade schooler. Her dad has been out of the picture since she was a baby and no child support forthcoming from him.). I cried buckets, even while knowing that it was in her best interests.

  • MTM...I can't begin to tell you how in awe I am of you that you continue to shine daily, even when you walk through fire. How none of us sensed that you were struggling with these ups and downs is a testament to what a positive light you shine. There is a reason this happened..because no matter the outcome, this story needed to be told. Why are you the vessel? Because you are first class, loving, open and honest -and your candid expression will help so many people more than you know. I know that one way or another your story has a happy ending because it is you that is the main character. I can only hope that you are able to draw strength from the love of so many around you holding you up and cheering you on. xo Big Hugs to you. xo DG

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    i have to say it... im so sorry in advance... but

    fucking shit! how could you leave just like that!
    i am sooooo stressed out for you and i have so much stress in my life already. fucking shit

    i love you

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    ps. if i ever have an unexpected child that i cannot care for, you can be his/her new mommy!!!! 1000x over you deserve it.

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    oh god, that probably sounded gross and creepy. SMH

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    I don't know much about the adoption process, but this already sounds fishy to me. I can see how a needy and unscrupulous pregnant woman could acquire several "wannabe" adoptive parents and use them to get quick cash--eventually disappointing most or all of them because they can't all get to adopt the baby. I am surprised your lawyer would OK this sort of thing--for you to be the recipient of "desperate" text messages and to respond by sending money. As previous posters have stated, there are social service programs available for these types of basic necessities. Maybe you need a different lawyer...?

  • I can't wait to read more, but I know this journey will end in a baby for you. Maybe not this baby, but you'll get your happily ever after.

  • Beautifully written, engaging, a true cliff hanger. I logged on first thing this morning to read the second installment...sigh...it's not up yet but I'll keep checking back.

    Your decision to adopt struck a cord with me. My brother and his wife adopted twin girls when they were 3 months old. The entire family was excited by these newcomers and enchanted by their cub-like antics. Every year we celebrated both their birthday and their "First Day." They've always known they were special...chosen. Those babies are now 41 and extraordinary moms in their own rights. In their early 20's, one of the twins wanted to know more about her birth parents, so my brother and sister-in-law set about trying to locate them. And find them they did. Now, both enjoy a wonderful relationship with their birth mom, too. (I'm especially grateful for this as they lost their amazing mom just a few years ago.)

    All of this is to say, I admire your decision to adopt and will be delighted when your new child is safely placed in your loving arms. Don't know where your adventure is headed next, but pray it turns out as happily for your family as it did for ours. Wishing you all good things.

  • As an adopted child I naturally turned to adoption when concieving didn't work out as we hoped. We walked away from the process because I find it simply appalling. Children are bought and sold like commodities to the highest bidder (or in many cases the people with the best photo albums). We had friends who had heartbreaking stories about being left in the hospital parking lot because the gene pool changed its mind at the last minute. One co-worker had a baby taken from their home after three months because the woman lied about the man involved.

    We worked with a surrogate to make sure my husband was genetically related to the child(ren). The first thing I told our surrogate was that two of my bridesmaids were lawyers and I wouldn't hesitate to use them if we ran into problems. I was a bit shocked that she stayed with us to be honest. I'm not sure I would have if someone made that threat during our first phone call.

    Our story has a happy ending and we're all still friendly. There are a lot of parallels, though, to your story. I look forward to reading the next installments.

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