Adoption Retrospective: Aren't You Worried That Birthmother Is Smoking During Pregnancy?

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

August 2003

We take several weekend trips to M’s town to spend time with her and make preparations for the baby’s arrival.  The hot summer air clings to us all, beading up on our foreheads and dampening our necks. Although M is 8 months pregnant, she is game for walking around and showing off the sights in her small town and in the nearby college town.

We do not get to meet her 3-year-old son or her 7-year-old daughter, since both are in protective custody, but it is obvious from the way M talks about them that she loves them intensely.  She speaks with us about her anger at the situation, at how she did not recognize that another member of the household was harming the kids.  As she looks back, she realizes there were signs, such as when her 18-month-old son suddenly lost his hair, and the doctors thought it might be stress.

She pulls pictures of her kids out of her wallet, and at Walmart, we print copies of the photos.  Andrew and I tuck the copies with care into our own wallets, these children who are the siblings of the child that we hope to adopt.

We all meet with our local attorney.  Department of Family Services has been busy making plans to take custody of the baby when it is born.  A guardian ad litem named Anna will be representing M’s baby in court.  A couple named Susan and Keith will be the foster parents.  They have had many babies come through their house, and the social worker assures us that the baby will be in good hands.

Originally, we were told 5-7 days after birth until the baby could come home with us.  Bureaucracies move more slowly than snoozing slugs, however, and the time frame has now been bumped up to two weeks.

During our visits with M, we take roll after roll of photos (yes, the old-fashioned kind that need to be printed!!!), so we can show them to our friends and family back home.  We laugh and pose and eat and hang out and snap pictures of each other left and right. M asks for copies of the photos, so we developed them in duplicate.

One day at work, I am showing the pictures to a few colleagues.  One notes with shock that M is smoking a cigarette.

“Aren’t you worried that the birthmother is smoking during pregnancy?  What about the health of the baby!” she exclaimed.

This is a watershed moment, a realization that for the rest of my life, there will be people who (often innocently) make judgments about our birthmother, our adopted child, and us.  The concern expressed by my well-meaning colleague is a concern born from a life of privilege.  She genuinely cannot imagine why someone would smoke while pregnant.

“No,” I answer simply.  “I’m not.”

Our birthmother lives a very different life than my colleagues.  Yes, I notice when she smokes.  But if I am uncomfortable adopting a baby whose mother smokes cigarettes and drinks caffeine throughout her pregnancy, then maybe I should not be adopting.  Who am I to judge? Is there a recipe for a perfect baby?  I realize that these things do not matter to me anymore, that I want to adopt this baby, to love her and cherish her, to help break the cycle of violence and unhappiness and foster care that her family is struggling with.

Do I mind that the birth mom smokes?  Let’s see, when I was pregnant, I avoided all seafood, to reduce the risk of the baby being exposed to methylmercury.  I avoided deli meats, the better to avoid listeriosis.  No Advil, no Sudafed, no over-the-counter medicines.  Only organic foods.  I practiced prenatal yoga, kept all my prenatal appointments, even held my breath when I walked past smokers.

And my baby is gone, his body broken and ill beyond salvaging.

M, with all her cigarette-smoking, caffeine drinking and ConAgra food eating, is already doing better than I did.  Her baby is alive.  Gloriously, wonderfully alive.  Kicking, moving, growing.  And M is so much more than just a smoker.  She is intelligent, witty, perceptive, warm – all qualities that are more important to me than nicotine addiction.

No, I do not mind that M smokes, for three very specific reasons:

1). It is her body, her choice, and at this point, HER baby.  I would never dare tell any pregnant mother what to do with her body, and I sure as hell would not do so with M.  After all, M doesn’t presume to tell me what to do with my body.

2). Whatever she is doing is working much better than what I did.  Her baby is still here, and mine is not.

3). There are NO guarantees in life.  Whether you have a biological child or adopt, you do NOT know what you are going to get.  Parents with textbook pregnancies, healthy lifestyles and regular prenatal care sometimes give birth to kids who develop autism spectrum disorders, heart disease, hydrops, cancer, sensory issues, kidney disease — any number of conditions that make life challenging.

And parents who smoke cigarettes and drink sodas filled with high fructose corn syrup and eat food sprayed with pesticides sometimes give birth to kids who meet every developmental milestone, wear Mensa caps and star in the NBA.

You never know what you are going to get.  Yes, it is best to reduce risks whenever possible.  But ultimately, if you are in for having a child, then you are in for the luck of the draw, come milk and honey or hell and high water.  There is no recipe for a perfect child.  You get what you get, add in love and nurture, and hope for the best.

Here are the previous entries in the retrospective:

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

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