Adoption Retrospective: Show Me Despair and Uncertainty

Adoption Retrospective: Show Me Despair and Uncertainty

It has been ten years since we began our adoption journey.  In honor of the passing of time, I will be publishing one post each month in 2013 that reflects on our lives in 2003.

October 2003

K is waiting in foster care, and we are waiting back in Chicago.  Every few days, the social worker emails me an update on how K is doing.

Carrie & Andrew,

Hello!  I went to see K today and she is doing great.  She is waking once early in the night and once late in the night.  She is a good sleeper. 

Sincerely,

Sarah P., Lutheran Family & Children's Services

We fly to visit K.  I am surprised she looks the same, a tiny, squished little person in her infant carrier.  I do not know why, but I expect her to look different, bigger.  It feels like I have been away from her for so long.  She is still real.

While we are visiting with K, her birthmother M calls my cell.  She is struggling.  Her voice is  dead and toneless.  She is broken-hearted and alone, with all three of her kids now in protective custody.  She wants K back.  She wants them all back.  But due to terrible circumstances in the home (M was not the aggressor), she can’t have them, and it is awful for her.

I work to put aside my own feelings when I talk to M, trying to feel her pain, trying to help her find resolution.  It is very hard to get inside M’s grief, to embrace it as my own.  I am reminded again that open adoption, the involvement of the birth family with the adoptive family, is borne of an understanding of grief and loss, and it is highly unusual in foster care situations.  So we were charting some new territory here.  M’s loss, if all goes as expected by DFS, will ultimately become my gain.  Right now, neither of us has custody of Baby K, and we are both suffering.

Carrie & Andrew,

Hello!  I am very sorry that I did not email you yesterday.  I had to be out of the office all day.  K is doing great, her umbilical cord fell off!  I took pictures, and I have not had a chance to develop the film yet but I will try and get the pictures in the mail on Monday.

Sincerely,

Sarah P, Lutheran Family and Children's Services

We are missing out on K’s earliest days, her introduction to the world.  We see her on Saturdays from nine a.m. to six p.m. and on Sundays from nine a.m. to noon.  It is not enough.  I have not removed the hospital bracelet from my wrist since the day she was born.  It is a constant reminder of her presence, her very real existence here on earth.  She represents all that is good and pure and hopeful.  We will fight for her because she cannot fight for herself.  I do not know why K’s life is beginning in such turmoil.  But I do believe that the darkest hour comes before the first light of dawn, and as we stumble through this darkest of times, there is a promise of light that sustains us during our journey.

Carrie & Andrew,

I just got off the phone with Susan and she says that K is doing great today.  In response to your questions K does not have another doctor’s appointment until she is two months old.  At that time she will need to get her immunization shots.  Susan also said that K did much better with her bottle on Sunday.  She loves being in the warm water during her bath!

Sincerely, Sarah P., Lutheran Family and Children's Services

Oct 2, 2003.  K is three weeks and one day old.  Email from Sarah:

Carrie & Andrew,

I just got your email and K is doing great today.  I am very happy that you will get to spend more time together this weekend.  I will be at the office Monday morning when you do the exchange. 

Sincerely, Sarah P., Lutheran Family and Children's Services

Oct 8, 2003.  K is four weeks old.  Email from Sarah:

Carrie & Andrew,

Hello!  I hope that everything is going well with you.  K is such a cutie.  I did send the pictures to your old address.  I hope that they get to you soon.  The ones of her at the doctor’s office are adorable.  I will start taking more pictures to send soon. 

Sincerely, Sarah P., Lutheran Family and Children’s Services

We make it to October 14th, the date of our first hearing. K will be five weeks old tomorrow.  Andrew and I fly to K’s town midweek.  The guardian ad litem and our attorney expect that today we will be awarded custody and we will stay in K's state while we wait to clear interstate.  I am wild with joy and excitement.  My suitcase is filled with baby supplies, and we have made a long-term reservation at the hotel.

But there is an unexpected turn of events in court.  (Details are being left out to protect the privacy of K). Things do not go the way everyone thought they would, and the Judge sets the next hearing for November 5th.  M, who came to Court to support us and testify that she wanted us to be K’s parents, crumpled.

The bottom falls out.  November 5th? November 5th!  Just a few hours ago we were about to end this ordeal.  Now our next court date isn’t until November 5th.  Three weeks away.  I have a crisis of faith.  There is no reason to believe that it will work out.  I am terrified, truly panicked, that this will end badly.  There is no comfort here.  All the sudden I have this image of months going by, with K growing older and older and the adoption still not taking place.  Waves of fear wash over me; I lose it.  The past eleven months have been the worst I have ever known, and every little bit of misery erupts in me.

Andrew tells me he is glad the Judge will not transfer custody of K to us, because it will make it easier to survive if we can’t adopt her.  I disagree.  Whether or not we have custody of her makes no difference to my level of emotional involvement.  I am tied to her tightly by the enormous effort that goes into seeing her every week, by the hours of time in airports and on airplanes and in cars, all to be able to hold her on Saturdays.

My husband handles the situation differently.  He does not cry or scream or freak out.  He is a typical guy.  I feel the missing of K so strongly that it is a physical sensation.  Andrew is sad and anxious but he is able to put it aside and teach his students each day.  I cannot put it aside.  Bringing home K consumes me with a passion.  I call the foster agency every day to see how K is, has she learned to roll over or smile or anything new.  Sitting still is impossible.  If I am not actively working to bring K home, it will not happen.  I feel alone, an advocate for my daughter, fighting the legal system, the bureaucratic crap that stands between K and me.  Andrew would say, between K and us.  But it feels like K and me.  I am obsessed with bringing her home.

This is a phenomenon that can occur, in a slightly different form, in couples that are struggling with traditional infertility.  I have spoken with women who tell me of their obsession with getting pregnant.  Living life in fourteen-day waiting periods, until ovulation or the onset of a period, waiting, hoping, falling apart, waiting, hoping, falling apart.  These women tell of the complete obsession with pregnancy that they develop, a wedge that can strain marriages.  Becoming pregnant becomes the sole topic of conversation, the sole life goal.  Time between ovulation and periods is just time to kill, until the next chance.  Days are marked by where in the menstrual cycle they are.  A woman struggling with infertility coexists with her obsession.  One part of her is at work, engaged in her job.  Meanwhile, a separate self is constantly calculating how many days until she can take an early pregnancy test, or until she can use the ovulation predictor kit.  She watches the calendar, always moving toward Hope.  And then the familiar grief when she sees the bright red stain, yet again mourning the loss of hope.

To one who struggles with infertility, it seems as if everyone is pregnant.  Friends and relatives regularly announce the happy news.  You smile and tell them how happy you are for them.  And it is true.  But you also yearn for the privacy of your room so you can weep and rage at the unfairness of it all.  Time loses its meaning.  It is but an abstraction, a concept to torture you.  How do you mark time?  Is it in the entertainment magazines, chronicling endless celebrity pregnancies?  You pass the newsstand on the way to the train.  It is fall.  On the cover of People® a celebrity proudly rests her hands on her perfect basketball belly.  You pass the newsstand on the way to the train.  It is winter.  The same celebrity adorns the cover, now clutching a newborn babe, proclaiming her perfect happiness.  You pass the newsstand on the way to the train.  It is spring.  The celebrity beams out at you from the cover, now flaunting her perfect body, whittled back down to pre-pregnancy shape.  You want to avert your eyes but cannot.  The magazines taunt you with her goddess-like fertility.  And in the back of your mind, you know that these snapshots are not always the whole truth, that these happy tales may contain their own shadows.  But the images are perfect, the carefully sculpted work of public relations experts.

In my case, days are marked not by a menstrual cycle but by where in the court docket we are.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.

Carrie & Andrew,

Susan says that K slept from 9:00 pm to 3:00 am Wednesday night.  A whole 6 hours!   I took lots of pictures and will go back again next week and take more.  Susan says that she has been playing your tape every night and that she would like you to bring a blanket or shirt that has your scent on it so she can put it by K. 

Sincerely, Sarah P., Lutheran Family and Children's Services

M is afraid we will quit.  She tells me she is terrified that we will give up and abandon K to the mercy of DFS.  In order to survive this, I need to focus only on what is best for K, not on what is best for us or even for M.  In K’s case, the family member contesting her adoption has a serious criminal history of abusing children, for which this person has served extensive time in jail.

DFS has no intentions of letting that family member take custody of K, so if we do not fight for her, she will stay in DFS custody for an indeterminate length of time, probably until someone else tries to adopt her.  As kids get older, it is harder to find a forever family.  My worst fear is that she would be lost in the system.

Oct 21, 2003.  K is five weeks and six days old.  Email from Sarah:

Carrie & Andrew,

Hello, how are you today? Susan says that K is trying to smile and you may be greeted by a big smile next weekend!  She also says that K slept 7 hours the other night.  Only waking once to be fed!   K is getting so long that she has outgrown many of her clothes.  She now needs a size 3-6 months.  I thought you might want to know so you can be prepared for this weekend.

Sincerely,

Sarah P., Lutheran Family and Children's Services

Oct 31, 2003.  K is seven weeks and two days old.  Email from Sarah:

Carrie & Andrew,

Happy Halloween!  Jenny wanted me to write you and tell you that she can only do the exchange at 7:00 on Saturday night instead of 7:30.  Have a great weekend with K.

Sincerely,

Sarah P., Lutheran Family and Children's Services

At the end of October, we need to have another home study update because so much time has passed since we were supposed to bring K home.  I laugh as I remember how I wanted to make a good impression back when we were beginning the adoption process.  I remember hiding the oil paintings of the nudes, in case the social worker was ultra conservative.  I remember buying bagels and brewing fresh coffee, attempting to portray our home as a delightful place.

Now, the social worker walks into the lion’s den.  I am furious about the twisted path our adoption of K has taken.  I am tired of grief and anxiety, so worn down by weeks of commuting to another state, counseling M, missing K. . . I am so full of rage that I can barely see straight.

I lash out when Sue asks me how I am doing.  I make no effort to mask the tears that are now rolling down my cheeks, as I vehemently announce that I hate the adoption process. I am never going to adopt again.  Poor Sue sits there, sympathetic, looking at us with compassion, as I launch into a much needed tirade.  “Everything is terrible.  K is stuck in foster care, Andrew and I are wrung out and exhausted.  M is scared that K will be lost to the system or, worse, be given to a person who is not safe. This is terrible, awful.  It sucks.  Sucks, sucks, sucks.”

Andrew looks at me, as if, are you done yelling at this innocent woman?  He comes over to the couch, rubs the knot in my shoulders, puts his arms around me.  I am too worked up to relax into him.  I stand up, pace, continuing to vent.  Sue nods, agrees, yes, this has been a terrible experience.  Yes, this is not the way it is supposed to happen.  She is quiet, gentle, does not say anything to stoke my fire or provoke anger.  She sits with my feelings and accepts them.  She is a good person.  Halloween passes, and I can barely cope with all the darling children in costumes parading down the streets.

K 5 weeks

K 5 weeks

Carrie and K (2 weeks)

Carrie and K (2 weeks)

K foster care 7 weeks

K foster care 7 weeks

Read the previous posts in the Adoption Retrospective Series:

Jan 2003; Feb 2003; March 2003; April 2003; May 2003 June 2003 July 2003

August 2003; Sept 2003 Part 1; Sept 3003 Part 2

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