In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days. Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.
By Maria Kuntz
When I was twenty-one, I married a man twenty-three years older than I was. I was still in college, studying to be a teacher, and he had two children, ages five and eleven. He and his former wife had had trouble conceiving; one daughter was adopted, and the other created through artificial insemination. Knowing of the past difficulties and the likelihood that we would not be able to have children, I told myself that helping to raise his children along with my career in teaching would certainly be enough. But my feelings changed as I neared my thirtieth birthday.
I found it increasingly difficult to be around people with babies or to even attend baptisms at our church. I felt very resentful when my friends shared their joy of pregnancy and starting a family (and I also felt very guilty for feeling resentful and angry and, yes, even jealous).
After much discussion, my husband’s age being a factor, we decided to go ahead with our own attempts to have a family. After much effort and many failures, we underwent testing that showed that I too had trouble conceiving and sustaining a pregnancy – double jeopardy and a huge blow to my hopes for motherhood.
We decided to adopt domestically but found that many agencies would not consider us, as there was a possibility our future child could be left without a father. We tried to convince the agencies that this could happen to any family and that life was not without risk, but it was futile.
We then looked into foreign adoption. The cost was prohibitive and the agencies, again, were reluctant. At this point, I was thirty-five and felt that motherhood was not in the cards for me. It was an extremely difficult time, made increasingly so because we were helping our oldest daughter with some life issues and the raising of her toddler.
Our oldest daughter was ultimately was forced to give this child up for adoption, but we were not considered as an option, due to our relationship with her. Soon after this, I took in a fifth grade student in need and, later, brought her newborn brother home from the hospital. We did not sign any papers, and the children still spent time with their mother. After we had the infant baptized and became more involved in their family life, the mother ultimately decided to keep her children full time. My faith was quite shaken at this point and I kept praying for guidance.
I truly believe God sent help via television. This sounds so strange, I know, but I was at my lowest point and trying to convince myself that adoption was not a road I had originally wanted to travel anyway, when a news program came on the television about a foster-adoption agency almost two hours from our home. A knowing look passed between my husband and me and he whispered, “one more time; please just one more time” and we began to fervently hope and pray that this might be our answer.
I called the agency and was asked where I lived. The person on the other end said that she was very sorry but the agency did not work in our particular area. I fell apart and began sobbing into the phone about motherhood and all that we had tried and how important this was. I’m sure much of what I said was incomprehensible, as I was crying so hard.
A social worker came on to the line and, as I attempted to calm down, she reassured me that she would talk to her supervisor and see what could be done. Within two hours, I received a return phone call asking if we would be willing to make the drive to the agency for Wednesday evening and all day Saturday classes. Well, of course we would! And suddenly, I felt like floating – hope was in the air and it certainly felt like prayers were being answered.
The classes were necessary, because in all likelihood, we would be fostering a child of a race different from ours. Our eyes were opened to the many problems we might face, not only within our own family, but also in the community at large. We learned about everything – from skin and hair care to the larger, more impactful issue of racism. These were somewhat daunting responsibilities, but we remained steadfast in our desire to adopt.
Within a year, our classes and home study were completed, and we began what was supposed to be a long wait. On Wednesday of that week, the social worker called and told us a seven-month-old baby was waiting and could be picked up at the agency on Friday. The birthparents’ rights had already been terminated, so we would technically be fostering for six months, and then he would be ours. I had two days to find a long-term substitute for my students and prepare a nursery.
Oh, the phone calls that were made, now with happy news of our own to share!
When Friday finally came, the hours seemed to pass slowly, but the time did arrive. I was suddenly fearful – what if I didn’t feel maternal toward this child, what if we didn’t connect? He was already seven months old; how could he possible accept me as his mother? Of course, as soon as I saw him, there was no question that he was mine. The feelings were overwhelming and I held him close and whispered many promises into his ear. This little boy was ours, and the future seemed so bright.
That weekend, I don’t think I put him down for longer than five minutes. I wanted him to feel secure and to know that I was there for him. When a social worker and nurse came for a home visit on Monday, he would not go to them and clung to me. We had already made a strong connection, and I was relishing my new role.
Within a month, our happy bubble burst as our son’s maternal grandmother made herself known to the agency and wanted to adopt him. It was just before Christmas, and we were looking forward to that joyful first with our son. We agonized over whether or not we should even celebrate the holiday. We couldn’t bring ourselves to decorate or put up a tree.
We ultimately decided to suppress our devastation, keeping our mind on the connection with our child and the bitter sweetness of the holiday. Even after deciding that it was important to keep our focus on the meaning of the season, our moments were tinged with the reality that we might lose our child. One of those occasions was when I bought him his Christmas stocking, and it dawned on me that we might not have him for another Christmas. Instead of writing his name on the stocking, I pinned the receipt to it, so that I could return it after the holiday. This was the beginning of a long battle.
If the conditions had been ideal, we would have given him back to his original family without a fight. The agency required that he stay with his grandmother on “transitional weekends” so that he would become acquainted with her, and when the time came, his permanent transition to her home would go more smoothly.
Unfortunately, his weekend stays were not happy times for him, and he would come home to us in poor condition – dirty and hungry and tearful. He often reeked of tobacco smoke. He began to go on crying jags during the week and had night terrors. When it would be time for him to leave for the weekend, he would forcefully cling to my neck and sob.
I could not believe the agency would allow this horrific situation to continue. We insisted that a social worker be present when he was returned to us each week and that pictures were taken. I also kept a journal as the grandmother presented erratic behavior, such as not using the provided car seat and not using or returning medications.
All of this recordkeeping was to no avail, as we were told that blood relatives took precedence and the fact that we were a different race was to our detriment. We kept arguing that our baby’s emotional and physical health was at risk, but the agency was surprisingly indifferent to this. Another problem in this situation was that we would be working with a certain social worker, and oftentimes, that social worker would be reassigned, and we would have to start over with another one.
We received so much love and support during this stressful and discouraging time. A friend who was staying with us rent free gave us the money for a retainer fee to hire a lawyer. My work allowed me to take many days off to care for our son. The nurse and community worker from my school would often come to our home to document our son’s condition after his visits. They offered whatever support they could.
Due to our lawyer’s intervention and help, we were able to get court hearings where we presented photographs and other documentation as evidence of the poor care. After the court sent investigators to validate the grandmother’s home condition, the judge agreed with our concerns. A court date was set to finalize the adoption. It had been a very long two and a half years, but that Christmas, I was finally able to throw away the receipt and write my son’s name on his Christmas stocking.
It has been about twelve years. Our son is a healthy and wonderful fourteen-year-old about to enter his first year of high school. He is very athletic and plays football and basketball and has set records in track. He does well in school and hopes to continue as an athlete in college. He is somewhat shy and anxious, especially in new situations or when he feels pressure to do well. I think much of this stems from his early experiences. I am excited for our son and his plans for the future, and I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring us.
Maria C Kuntz taught in the elementary grades for fifteen years in Southern California, much of that in the inner city. Her family moved to the Midwest when their son Alden was 2 ½, and she has not pursued a teaching career, but she works at Alden’s former elementary school as an associate/secretary. Her husband Bob retired when they moved to the Midwest, and they like to spend as much time together as they can.
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