Introducing Emmanuel Nicholas

September 3rd, 2012

Here’s our boy, who has kept me really really busy for the last 5.5 months.

I’m in love with him, of course.

He is calm and happy. He likes long walks in the woods because he can stare up at the trees for twenty minutes just taking in the light and wind and color.

He wasn’t always calm and happy–he was “colicky” for 4 months and we walked him back and forth for 14 hours a day until we figured out he had acid reflux. A little medicine every day turned him into an “easy” baby. Thank God.

Emmanuel’s birthmother, Phiona, is strong, smart, wry and wise and we visit with her all the time. A truly open adoption that feels natural.

Ian has had a little trouble adjusting. A lady at the grocery store asked him last month, “Are you a good big brother?” and Ian said, “No.”

“At least he’s honest,” I told her.

But he’s taking to liking him a lot since Emmanuel started laughing at him and watching him play.

More later.

Race and Adoption, Part II

January 24th, 2012

I wrote Race & Adoption, Part I, more than 4 years ago. But I just posted it two weeks ago—and, as they say at the end of successful fundraisers, “the response was overwhelming.”

What does “overwhelming” mean for a blog post? Five “likes” on Facebook, four emails, three comments, and one phone call. Yes, people. There was an overwhelming response to my thoughts on race and adoption. I expect Oprah to call next week.

I started wondering today why I waited so long to post those brief thoughts. They have been sitting as a draft on my computer for quite a long time. Longer than my computer has lasted, actually. I retrieved them from a failed hard drive three years ago.

Why did I wait? Well, for one, I didn’t have a blog for about a year. Another thing—by the time I had a blog, the race issues that are part and parcel of adoption in America were so complicated and confusing to me, I didn’t know where to start.

And then there’s this. I know that there are lots of people involved in adoption who don’t want to talk about the race issue. They like to stay on the cheerful side of adoption, the one where all parties are served well and everyone is happy.

Well, there are lots of other sides to adoption. And I don’t like to be the one to talk about them. I’m okay talking about grief—about the grief of birthparents, about infertility and grief, about the adopted child’s grief about not being with his family of origin. But other issues? They make me uncomfortable, because I don’t like to rock the boat. There are so many other people who can rock the boat, and they have a lot more experience than I do with adoption.

But I think I’ll let go of that fear, and just write about what I know. I’ll write more about race and adoption from here on out—I’m hoping for more overwhelming responses.

Introducing Veronica

January 14th, 2012

There’s a new Polish girl in my family! My sister, Jeanne, and her husband, Colin, were matched with Veronica after two years of a paperwork project that is almost unimaginable in scope, unless you’ve completed an international adoption.

Below are Jeanne’s reflections on being matched:

I had a dream last night that my hands turned in to claws. I was horrified in my dream, and when I woke, realized the real life implication of hanging on, gripping, clutching, tightly breathing. My husband and I are undergoing the rigorous – I will not say impossible – journey of international adoption.

I have realized that adoption is a miracle, truly God’s thoughtful, expansive plan: It seems outrageous to me that anyone has survived this suspense without Divine Intervention.

We travel in less than two weeks to see our little girl again: adorable, 4 year old Veronica. Out of our box. Unexpected. Veronica. We have a small glimpse into who she is because of a five day visit. We wonder and ponder, attach, and defend. We worry. We miss. We plan. And love her.

The outrageous things people say: “Does she speak English?” Um, no, she’s 4, and she lives in Poland. “Where are her parents?” Well, um, they got lost on a weekend away and never came back. I especially don’t know how to answer that question.

I don’t know because I can’t imagine that she was ever unwanted.

To be honest, what I’ve realized: The questions, however awkward, are a way of embracing her. A way of assimilating her into EVERYONE’S way of life and understanding. A little girl told me “Veronica is my friend; let’s set up a play date”; people have been dropping presents by my office “For Veronica, I couldn’t help myself,” neighbors have been dropping off luggage, giving me advice about doctors, calling, writing.

A grumpy nurse turned happy after seeing her picture. She was able to fill my husband’s long term prescription in five minutes, something that would have taken weeks on another occasion. She’s happy. She’s happy about Veronica.

My secretary has more pictures of Veronica hanging up than I do. She talks about her more. My colleagues could not wait to throw the shower. They could not wait and said, “We are all adopting her.” And more than one meeting was ruined by watching videos.

An acquaintance at work walked into my office to say: “This day care owes me a favor. I will call it in for you.” What am I but grateful that an acquaintance would call in a favor for me? Maybe I don’t even need that favor. But she wants to call it in. Sincerely.

And Family. Prayers and packages. Hopes and dreams. Money and planning. Thoughtful presents and caring. “We thought of her.” “I started crying.” “She’s beautiful.” “We are so happy for you.”

We are so happy. Everybody’s busy, but not too busy…not too busy for you, Veronica. The whole world watches and waits. And is happy. And you are not unwanted, Veronica.

I wrote this about four years ago, when Nick and I were just being confronted with the various forms and checkboxes that are part of the adoption process. I was baffled and overwhelmed by all the choices that go along with adoption. Race is one of those choices. Here’s what I was thinking in January, 2008:

We can’t ignore it: the adoption forms are full of questions about the kind of child we’re looking for. The ones we’re open to. The child we will welcome into our family. The child who will steal our hearts.

When we first started researching agencies, we would fill out online forms, pre-application applications for adoption agencies or facilitators. The race question is inevitable: “What races are you open to? Check all that apply.” Sometimes the question is tidied up and you’re just presented with two options. It goes something like this: “X adoption entity has two types of adoptions: the “traditional program” and the “agency assisted” program.” Or sometimes, just “Group A” and “Group B.”

There are different kinds of babies?

Yes. But only TWO different kinds of babies. One group is all babies EXCEPT ones of African American ancestry. Group 1 and Group 2. “Agency assisted” usually means the organization waives part of its fees to facilitate the placement of these African American or multi-racial babies.

An admirable cause, yes. Necessary? It depends on how you look at it. How things ought to be? Definitely not.

The instant impression this two-tiered system makes is that there is an ECONOMIC difference between black babies and other babies. A different monetary value is placed on “Group A.” Now we know from adoption statistics that healthy, white babies are a scarce commodity, insofar as there are not enough of them to go around for all the families who would like to be matched with one. So this double system–Group A and Group B– reflects reality. Does it follow that because seemingly fewer families want to adopt “Group B” babies that their adoption should actually cost less?

Many agencies maintain that these adoptions should cost less to increase adoptions of black babies. But do we really want decisions about which family wants what race of child to be based on money? Or you could say that people choose to adopt black children just happen to get a little “thank you” in the form of reduced rates. Something not connected to their decision. No matter how you look at it, the separation of babies based on race reinforces the status quo: it represents certain children as more valuable than others. And representation doesn’t just show us reality; it creates reality.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that measures are needed to find homes for black babies. But measures such as the this double system are bandages–they treat the symptom, not the disease. It’s not the best solution to the problem of finding families for all the babies. We need to inquire into the powerful but silent workings of the system itself. Why are black babies harder to place? Are black and multiracial families recruited by adoption agencies and facilitators at the same rate as their caucasian peers? Why is it so beyond the imagination of many white families that they might adopt a black child?

This American Life on PRI ran a show called “Matchmakers” in January 2008. The third act of the show tells the story of a writer who works as a “nurse” in a “nursery” at FAO Schwartz. The idea is that little girls can adopt newborn dolls and bring them home to be part of the family. The store is swamped with white parents and children who buy out all the white dolls, then the asian, then the hispanic (in that order). The “nurse” is left with a group of unadopted, black babies and one white baby, whose hands are deformed.

Utterly fascinating and very sad–have a listen.

You can stream it for free, or download:

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/347/Matchmakers

Nick and I finished the work (paper and otherwise) for our second adoption homestudy. That means we’re officially “waiting” for a placement.

Waiting. How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

I hate thee to the depth and breadth and height of your uncertainty, to the absolute end of every plan we’d like to make.

I hate thee at 2:30 in the morning when I wake up worrying about waiting, and at 5:00 in the morning when I fall back asleep worrying about waiting.

I hate thee when no one talks about us waiting, like they would if I were pregnant.

I hate thee when I think of teaching in September and don’t know if I will be in a newborn-induced state of sleeplessness when trying to teach depressing Southern fiction.

I hate thee when we’re almost matched, then it doesn’t work out.

I hate thee when I try to imagine our child, and have no parameters to do so.

I hate the twiddling of thumbs, the manic, un-biologically based nesting, the long stretches of time when it seems like the adoption will NEVER happen.

So much to hate, so much time to do it.