When I was still a prospective adoptive parent, nothing intimidated me more than the state-mandated home study.
I remember my anxious preparations after our appointed social worker from the adoption agency called to set up our first home study visit. Andrew and I both arranged to take the morning off from work so we could meet her in our apartment.
Before she arrived, we scrubbed the apartment clean. Ludicrously clean, even cleaner than if my mom were coming to visit. Every surface had to be clear. Clear like our consciences.
We simply did not know what to expect. Would the social worker be looking to either “pass” or “fail” us?
My oil paintings covered every wall of our apartment and included sensuous nude portraits from one of my life painting classes. The portraits, so casually displayed on our walls amidst still lifes and landscapes, suddenly made me nervous. What if she found nude paintings offensive?
What if she found our home to be inappropriate for a child? I began to doubt myself, and I worried, worried, worried until finally I just took down the nudes, shoving the canvases under the bed, feeling a vague sense of self-betrayal.
This is one of the realities of adoption: you have to convince outside
parties that you are qualified to be a parent. Is it fair? No.
Life’s not fair. Sure, two fertile people can spend a night together
and become parents, even if they are not ready to be parents.
You can point to thousands of parents who have borne children and say
that they have strikes against them – they may be neglectful or abusive
or plagued by addictions to alcohol or drugs, perhaps sufferers of very
serious mental illness or a simple inability to commit to work or
family, who knows, who cares, you can easily find a zillion examples of
the unfairness of it all.
The fact is, when you are looking to adopt, someone is looking for the
skeletons in your closet, which simply does not happen when you
The day before our scheduled home study visit, Andrew and I had
received our CANTS clearances (Child Abuse and Neglect Tracking
System), a requirement for adopting parents. Seriously, why isn’t this
clearance a requirement for all parents? How bizarre is it that having
a child is a right for some and a privilege for others?
That being said, it surprised and relieved me to learn that nobody was
expecting adoptive parents to be perfect. Yes, the adoption
professionals were looking for skeletons in our closet, but it did not
mean that we had to be Mr. and Mrs. Brady.
For example, Andrew and I were hesitant to acknowledge that we were
still seeing a therapist due to the loss of Matthew. What if the
adoption agency thought we were unstable? Hoping it would not be a
black mark against us, we confessed.
Fine, good, just give us a letter from your counselor saying she
believes you are emotionally available to be parents. So we did. An
inconvenience, yes, and who knows what we would have done if our
counselor had thought we were not capable, but that did not happen!
So, it was okay to acknowledge that we were in therapy.
Then I admitted that I occasionally took Xanax on airplanes, because I
was afraid of falling out of the sky. Fine, understandable, it was not
a big deal.
As the adoption process continued, I realized that the agency knew we
were human, with human needs and weaknesses, and whether or not I was
afraid of flying did not determine what kind of parent I would be.
Anyway, I got over my fear of flying before our adoption was finalized
because we took so many plane trips.
The critical moment during the visit came when the social worker asked
us how we resolve conflict. Andrew looked at her and deadpanned,
“Swords at ten paces.” I glared at him. Why couldn’t he have said,
“we talk it over and reach a compromise.” After a moment of stunned
silence, the social worker let out a laugh.
Later in the evening after Sue’s visit, Andrew paced the apartment,
looking for the sports section he had left lying on the bathroom
“Carrie, where did you put the Trib?” he called impatiently.
“I don’t think I touched it,” I replied. And I really didn’t want to
get up to look, since I was tucked under a blanket on the couch, half
After ten minutes of listening to Andrew slamming around in a futile
effort to find the sports page, I got up and helped him look.
“Think, Carrie. Where is it? You were racing around cleaning up every
room in this apartment before the home study visit. You made it look
like nobody even lives here.”
“Babe, I swear I didn’t touch it.”
The next morning, as I heated up some water for oatmeal, I found it. I
had hastily shoved the offending newspaper into the microwave with a
dirty coffee cup as Sue Stewart rang the doorbell.
Sheepishly, I offered it to Andrew. He rolled it up and swatted me
with it. “You swear you didn’t touch it, huh?” As he walked away, I
saw a grin. A welcome sight those days.