Chosen

by Ann Whitfield Powers

After the fertility drugs fail, I spend hours lying with acupuncture needles crisscrossing my abdomen. I drink stinky tea, take BB shaped pills, and stand on my head after sex.   Nothing works.

As Patrick turns five, Tom and I decide to adopt a baby.  In interviews with the adoption agency staff we reveal more about ourselves and our relationship than we’ve told our best friends; we put together a family photo collage Norman Rockwell would envy; we craft a one page Dear Birthparent letter; and we write a hefty check.  Finally, we are “in the pool,” ready to be considered by birth parents who are looking for the right adoptive family for their birth child — this, the new trend in domestic adoption.  The birth parent(s) pick the adoptive family, not the other way around. Now, all we have to do is wait.  

Seven months later, we’re still waiting.  We have not received a single call, not even a “screening call” to see if we might be interested in a special needs child.

Each month the agency newsletter announces that three or four families have adopted, and five or six new families have been added to the waiting pool.  There are now over sixty waiting families.  My early confidence is badly bruised, and sorry thoughts start to hound me.  

 

*

 

Late one Friday afternoon, I come home from teaching and force myself to hang up my coat and slip off my shoes before I head to the answering machine.  No messages.  Then I see a note scrawled on an envelope: “Adrienne from the adoption agency called.  Please call back to set up a screening. Not urgent.”  The not urgent is underlined. 

Out the kitchen window I see Patrick and his nanny, Nisey, playing in the backyard.   I slip back into the living room and dial the phone number, my heart racing. Please let Adrienne be there.  It’s 4:45 on a Friday afternoon. I can’t stand the idea of waiting through the weekend to get the details.

She’s there! Her voice is warm and upbeat. “I want to know if you and Tom would like to be presented as potential adoptive parents to a birth mother named Laura.*”

Yes, we would,” I say quickly. 

Adrienne laughs.  “Well, there are a few complications you should hear about before you decide, but the good news is that the baby is already born, and the father is out of the picture — well, deceased, actually.” 

“Oh, that’s sad,” I say hesitantly.  Our adoption agency is all about keeping kids in touch with their birth parents, but because tracking down birth fathers and getting them to sign over paternity rights is often a sticking point in arranging adoptions, a dead birth father could be seen as good news. 

I walk back into the kitchen to check on Patrick and Nisey.  They’re crouched in front of a flowerpot, intently poking something with sticks.

“And you should know that Laura does have a history of struggling with addiction. She has been honest about using a bit during her pregnancy.”

I take a deep breath. “Okay,” I say.  I return to the dining room table, sit down and take up a pen. “Tell me.”

“Laura drank two to three beers a night, not every night certainly, but more often than not, and smoked pot for the first six months of pregnancy. She also says she did meth and heroine four times.”

I scribble: 2-3 beers; meth/heroine 4x.  Adrienne talks on as I try to decide how bad those numbers are.  In the adoption world, an occasional drink — unthinkable when I was pregnant with Patrick– is no big deal.   Of course, Laura drank more than that, but it doesn’t sound like she was a raging drunk.  The drugs worry me too, but the use is low.   I’m not ready to quit yet.     

“After that she went through a treatment plan and was definitely clean and sober at the end of her pregnancy, because she was incarcerated.”   

“Incarcerated?”  

Adrienne doesn’t completely understand the story behind the incarceration, but it has to do with a series of fights between Laura and her boyfriend — not the baby’s father, but the boyfriend after the baby’s father died — that ended up with assault charges and both Laura and her now “ex” boyfriend in jail.

A stillness opens in my chest.  My sister had an abusive boyfriend once. An image of her trashed apartment — broken glass, fallen computer, bloody floor — flashes for a second.  She took years to get out. Briefly I volunteered in a domestic violence shelter where most of the women I met were trapped in that cycle and didn’t show any signs of being able to break free.  Do I want to start a relationship with a woman who is stuck in a DV dynamic?  I can’t focus on this question now. 

“Tell me about the baby.”

“Laura went into labor three weeks early and had a c-section. The baby had to be resuscitated, but was fine within minutes — with her Apgar Scores all nines. After three days in the hospital recovering with the baby, Laura went back to jail and the baby went to foster care.” Adrienne’s voice lowers: this is an unfortunate event, the separation of baby from mother. Then she picks up again.  “But the baby is doing well. She is five weeks old now.”

I smile. A girl.  “No signs of fetal alcohol syndrome?”

“No, nothing.  She looks good.”

Adrienne assures me that Laura has been diligent in pursuing the open adoption.  If the state agrees to this adoption — which they may or may not do — they will most likely restrict our contact with Laura, probably to letters and phone calls, or an occasional meeting in a public place. Laura understands this and still wants to go ahead.

“Adrienne, I think we will want to be presented. Let me check with Tom and get back to you.”

I hang up the phone, look out the window, catch Nisey’s eye and hold up a finger — one minute.  She nods.  I dial Tom’s number.

“We got a screening call,” I announce without saying hello.

“Oh really?”  He sounds curious but cautious.

I summarize the situation: a five-week-old baby girl, two to three beers, four meth/heroine incidents, incarcerated, clean at the end.   There is a long silence at the other end of the phone as Tom absorbs this information.

Finally he says, “Well, it’s a little iffy, but nothing you said makes me feel like slamming the door shut.  If she picks us, we can find out more, before we commit, right?”

I smile. “Right.”

“Okay, then,” he says. “Let’s do it.”

I call Adrienne back, but the office is now closed.  Yes, I say to the answering machine. Yes, we want to be presented.

I skip out to the backyard where Patrick and Nisey are now digging in the dirt.  I squat down, pick up a stick and join in.  “Are we going to get a baby, Mama?”  Patrick asks.  I smile.  He doesn’t miss a beat. “Maybe,” I say, tousling his hair.  “Maybe we are.”

*

 Dear Ann, Tom & Patrick,

I’m Laura, Destiny Jo’s  mother, and I hope you will be her mother soon too (and father and big brother)! Destiny was born on 02/03/04 (Kind of a cool birthday) three weeks early by C-section and weighed 5lbs 7oz. and she is beautiful, and I’m not just saying that because I’m prejudiced. She really is beautiful. 

We have been chosen. Adrienne tells me Laura looked at six families and picked us.  I am giddy, smiling, swaying to a bebop tune in my head. Adrienne provides the details on where we go from here.

There is a hearing in a week where the state Department of Human Services (DHS) will tell a judge what they plan to do with the now six-week-old baby.  DHS has in the past agreed to arrange private adoptions through our agency but these particular staff people have been noncommittal, verging on evasive.  Adrienne has sent a letter to the judge requested time to speak at the hearing.  Meanwhile Laura is sending us a letter, telling us her side of the story.  If the hearing goes well, we’ll go meet Laura and — if we like each other — finalize the deal.

I was the youngest of seven children . . .my brother Jack, the only one of us to graduate from high school, nicknamed me the wild child and I guess I have been pretty wild.  Mainly due to the fact that my parents were alcoholics I didn’t get a lot of real parenting.  But my mother gave us all a lot of love and my dad is responsible for the abundance of quick wit and humor than runs in our family.  And believe me we’re a funny bunch.

A week later Adrienne calls with good news: Laura’s attorney just told Adrienne she doesn’t need to come down to the hearing. He talked with DHS and they say they’re willing to facilitate this adoption!  Adrienne wants to hear it from the DHS staff person herself, but at this point it seems that if we want this baby, she’s ours.  We could go meet Laura next week and get the baby a few days later.  DHS may require us to jump through some hoops, but Adrienne is hopeful that we can move quickly.

We could have a baby in two weeks.  Oh my god. I’m in the middle of a semester of teaching two college classes.  I couldn’t quit at this point.  My mother has always said she’d come for a month to help, but right now she’s out of reach on a two-week kayaking trip.  Do we even own an infant carseat anymore? Our son is five, and what baby gear we haven’t given away is buried deep in the basement.

I talk to the chairman of the English department and tell him we might be getting a baby soon, but promise I won’t quit.  We brainstorm possible approaches — cutting an assignment, reducing days of teaching, making the final optional. It turns out he and his brother were both adopted. He turned out well enough, he says with typical modesty. But his brother has had problems. He looks at his schedule and offers to take my Wednesday classes.

My father died when I was fourteen and his death was really hard for me.  I rebelled at the whole world when he died and found solace in drugs and alcohol and sex . . . which of course led to me having my first child at the age of 15.  I quit smoking the day Derek was born and nursed him for 13 months. When he was three and a half I signed over custody to his dad’s mother, since we weren’t getting our lives together very well and couldn’t give Derek the stability a kid needs.  Anyway, I grew up fast and hard and went to jail when I was 18 and made a career of that kind for several years off and on.

On Saturday, instead of grading papers, I dig out baby gear from the basement.  I wash the dusty covers of the bassinet, the bouncy chair, and the swing.  I wipe down the railings and set it all out in the backyard to dry in the sun.  Where is our old infant car seat? Oh damn, I loaned it to my stepbrother and his wife in Montana.  Should I call them and ask them to send it back? Are we really getting this baby?

Patrick helps me assemble the bassinet. We set it up in a corner of the dining room and lay a gauzy green cloth over the top. That afternoon he plays big brother and tucks his Curious George monkey in the bassinet.  Now, each time I walk by the bassinet and look through the green gauze, I see the faint outline of a little figure inside.

Adrienne gave me the names of parents who have adopted kids with drug and alcohol exposure, and she suggested we call our pediatrician. The first parent I call is empathetic and reassuring: her child is turning out fine.  The pediatrician is another story.

“Oh, Ann, that’s a lot of exposure,” the pediatrician says immediately.  “And you know she’s underreporting. Believe me, I know. They always underreport.”

I sit down on a dining room chair.  Her voice is hard, jaded.  She seems to be implying she has extensive experience with lying drug addicts.  The adoption agency has warned us that many people are quick to vilify birth mothers.

“Yeah, maybe,” I agree reluctantly. I rest my elbow on the table, head propped in my hand.

“The baby may be fine now, but problems often don’t crop up until kids get into school. With all that exposure you will see problems. At the very least she won’t be the brightest bulb in the bunch.” 

I frown. How crass. And is it really inevitable?

“But you should expect to see ADD, learning delays, hyperactivity.  You could be spending your days taking her to special ed classes, psychiatrists, neurologists. I mean, some people are ready to take that on.  But don’t adopt this baby unless you’re willing to deal with a lot of challenges. Are you ready for that?”

I see. She’s on a mission, bringing hard truths to a naïve mom.  Telling it straight, hitting home.  Silently, I resist. Yes, some of this might come true.  But all of it?

“No,” I admit. “That’s not what we want.”

There is an awkward pause, and then she starts in again. “What is the mom in prison for?”

What can I say?  “Assault.”

“Assault? Oh, there you go. Oppositional defiance disorder. Maybe drugs in the house as she gets older.   And think of your son: what will it do to him to have this problem child in your house?”

My back goes rigid.  I stand up to hang up the phone.  “Well, that’s a lot to think about.  Thanks so much for your input,” I say trying to keep the acidity out of my voice.

“Thanks for thinking of consulting me,” she responds in a kinder tone.  “If you do get that baby, I’ll do my best to take care of her.”

I am shaking as I hang up the phone.  I hate her. I hate what she said.  It’ll be a cold day in hell before I take another child to see her.  She was horrid, jumping to conclusions, generalizing.  And then I am sobbing, because she might be right.  Worst-case scenario, I have to face it, she might be right.  And she understood my question better than I did:  I was really asking her to tell me the baby would be fine. I lean my forehead on the cool wood of the dining room table and cry.

Ten minutes later, I pull myself up, find the adoption file, and pull out the fact sheets on drug and alcohol exposure. Moderate drinking, defined as a drinking less than two drinks a night, creates a teratogenic risk of “none to minimal.” Laura reports drinking  more than that — two to three beers most nights — but not close to the six drinks a night required to get into the moderate to high risk category. There seems to be plenty of gray area here. I’m not sure what teratogenic means, or if there are other kinds of risks, but I’m not going to accept this pediatrician’s blanket statements of doom.

My American Heritage dictionary doesn’t list the word teratogenic. The Encarta Encyclopedia tells me that a teratogen is a “substance or agent in the external environment that can induce deformities in a fetus.” Teratogen is from the Greek teratos, which means monster; and genes, which means born.  So, to put it crudely, we’re looking at the chances that the child will be born a monster. But she’s already born and looks fine. Do teratogenic risks include developmental problems that crop up later? I will have to do more research.

That night, I call two more families who have adopted kids exposed to drugs, both say they adopted knowing they could face some special challenges, but so far, their children are fine.  A friend calls to say she checked with her pediatrician who insists the post-birth environment makes a huge difference in an exposed child’s development.

My mother died in July, then Destiny’s father died in August when I was two months pregnant with her.  Then I met Joe who is a woman beater.  But I saw the pony tail and thought well there has to be a pony in there somewhere under all that shit, so I started shoveling.  Well, I got my shovel broke and my heart broke too and still no pony. 

Anyway I did stab him in the neck, which only goes to show everyone has a breaking point. Even though the doctor’s report says it was a superficial wound I guess I came within an inch of killing him.  So initially I was charged with attempted murder and assault II.  I plea-bargained down to assault and am now paying my debt to society: 16 months. It would never have happened except for all the abuse I’d enjoyed and me being pregnant and all hormonal. I usually always control myself better.

Usually always?  What does that mean?  On the rare occasion she does act violent? Great.  Then again, if I had an abusive lover, I might just stab him in the neck too.

Anyway I feel a lot worse about the drugs I did while I was pregnant than I do about the assault. I did meth about four times and heroin twice and drank beer and smoked marijuana about half a dozen times. But I was totally clean the last month of pregnancy.  I’m so thankful Destiny was born clean and is not affected by the drugs.

These aren’t exactly the numbers Laura reported to the adoption agency, and the adoption agency via Adrienne, reported to us. Laura shrunk the amount she drank quite a bit. At first it was two to three beers most nights, now it’s half a dozen beers the whole pregnancy.  And I thought she was clean and sober for the last three months, not just the last month. Still, normal enough, to underreport when you know what’s at stake.  And the baby is healthy. 

Please don’t let my past or my current situation intimidate you because I’m really not a big, mean, dumb, stupid head! I’ve just had a constant battle with addiction and I’ve made some poor relationship choices.

“This too shall pass.”  Peace Out!  Love Life and Laughter,

Laura

I call Adrienne. “We got Laura’s letter,” I say.  “I like her.  But I notice there was a discrepancy between what she told me and what she told you about her drinking.”

“Well, actually the discrepancy is getting bigger,” Adrienne says.  “I just got the reports from the rehab center, and the first time she went in for an evaluation, in August, when she was two months pregnant, she self-reported she was doing meth every day, 1-2 grams, and had done heroin 3x the previous week.  She didn’t sign up for the rehab program at that point.  Four months later, in December, she did check herself in, and those records describe her as a self-admitted alcoholic.  So, I don’t know. It looks like there may be more exposure than we originally thought.”

I wash dishes, vacuum, water plants, numb from the weight of the news.  Up until now I thought there was a chance, a reasonable chance, the baby would be normal. How can I hold on to that hope now? 

And I worry about Tom’s reaction. He’s never felt the need for a second child, not in the gut-level yearning, no-rational-arguments-are- relevant way that I do. He’s hung in through this long process as a supportive husband, a willing participant.  He’s been interested and curious, but not fundamentally in need.  He feels the price of parenting more keenly than I do: the loss of free time to go mountain climbing, money to travel, or the simple pleasure of sleeping through the night un-interrupted by a crying baby.  He is going through this for me, but he has his limits. And this news will push him way over those limits. Even if I decided I was willing to take on the risks these numbers seem to suggest, I don’t know if I can ask him to do it.

When I give him the news, Tom says simply, “That’s not good.” 

“No,” I agree, “it’s not.” 

We look at each other silently.  Slowly I realize neither of us wants to be the one to pull the plug. 

“This isn’t what I envisioned,” I venture.

Tom gives me a wry smile and shrugs in agreement.  

After another long silence, Tom asks, “What exactly does it mean, to have that much exposure?” 

A weight lifts off my chest.  He’s willing to consider it.  Together we look at the literature on drugs and alcohol the adoption agency gave us, detailed in terms of teratogenic impacts but silent on issues like learning disabilities. We definitely need to learn more about what it might be like to have a child affected by in-utero exposure to drugs and alcohol.

We both surf the web and bring home printouts of news releases from an alphabet soup of agencies and journals: National Institute on Drug Abuse, Journal of American Medical Association, American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.  Through my college’s interlibrary loan system, I request books on fetal alcohol and drug exposure, adoption of at-risk infants, and studies of children who were exposed to drugs in utero. 

The next few days are a blur of obsessive reading, long phone calls with friends, family, people I know who have adopted, and pediatricians who specialize in developmental rehab; debates with Tom, and side conversations as I pick up and drop off Patrick from pre-school.  The things people say:

“It’s like you’ve been told you have a Down syndrome baby, but you can walk away from this one.”

“What will it do to Patrick?”

“Maybe you were meant to raise this child. You have the resources, the skills.”

“I was adopted. I turned out fine.”

It’s the meth you need to worry about. Meth makes holes in your brain like Swiss cheese.”

 “Alcohol is the biggest concern.”

“My husband’s adopted.”

“Destiny? Like Destiny’s Child, the band?”

“You know you will get picked again.  You can walk away without feeling like you’ll never get a baby.”

“You should talk to the Handle Institute, they can really re-wire your brain.”

“I have a patient who is adopted from Russia and he’s a fruitcake.”

“If she does end up having problems, she’ll be lucky to have parents like you.”

 

When I had thought I might still have my own biological child, I had picked the name Sophia Grace as a girl’s name, symbolizing wisdom and grace, two things I would like to give my child.  But it seems cruel to give a baby who, as our pediatrician says so charmingly, won’t be the brightest bulb in the bunch, a name that means wisdom.  But we need a name other than Destiny. Laura knows we might rename her, Adrienne assures me.  At the grocery store I buy a booklet, What Shall We Name the Baby?  Only after I buy the book do I realize I’m planning on moving forward with this adoption.

Finally the library books come in.  Adoption and Prenatal Alcohol and Drug Exposure: Research, Policy and Practice, published in 2000, is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Each chapter is by an expert in the field; it’s heavy with in-text citations, endnotes, and reference lists.  In her introduction, Madelyn Freundlich of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute says:

Research on the effects of prenatal alcohol and drug exposure has occurred in two distinct phases.  The first phase of research began in the 1970s and continued through the early 1990s.  Findings during this phase were by and large pessimistic, with an emphasis on early neurological damage among the children prenatally exposed to drugs or alcohol and predictions that these children would be unable to function normally intellectually or socially.  Beginning around 1993, the tone of the research shifted, as longer-term studies showed dramatic variation in the outcomes for children prenatally exposed to substances.  It became clear that there were many cases in which children, despite histories of prenatal substance exposure, demonstrated normal long-term development. (2)

 

Doctor Richard Barth of the University of North Carolina conducted an eight-year longitudinal study of 233 adopted children, 121 of whom had been exposed to drugs in utero.  In his chapter he outlines his study methodology and results in great detail — reminding me of my forgotten work as research assistant for a sociology professor, whose project was rife with uncertainties and imperfections.  Barth’s study also isn’t air tight, but his results are specific and telling.

 At the study’s eight-year mark, 78% of the drug-exposed children had no physical or mental disability, 70% had no developmental disability, 54% had no learning disability, 58% had no emotional/behavioral problems and 69% were in overall good health. But in the next chart, at the same eight-year mark, 86% of the children were medicated for ADHD and 56% were learning disabled. 

Finally, only 19% of parents said their child had been difficult or quite difficult to raise.  I can’t help but smile. Maybe the other 81%, those who say raising their child was not difficult, are the parents of the 86% who are medicated. 

No matter the discrepancies and contradictions, the bottom line for us is clear: we should only accept this baby if we’re willing to deal with some learning disorders, hyperactivity, and ADD.  I know I am still largely ignorant about the day-to-day reality of the challenges involved, but I think I can do it.  I know I can.  Is this a naive little-engine-that-could optimism?  A blind desperation for a baby, any baby?   I could do it, probably, but at what cost?  And what about the impact on Tom and Patrick? Could I be pushing our family into conflict and angst?  I waffle and agonize, one day set to go for it, the next resigned to giving up.

Then Adrienne calls with bad news.  It turns out the state is not willing to facilitate a private adoption.  When they said they would work with the adoption agency, they meant they’d allow the agency to present a family as one of several families they would consider, but they’re doing the picking, not Laura. And they won’t even set up the committee that decides who gets the baby for another six to eight weeks.

“Six to eight weeks?”  I sit down, the breath knocked out of me. No baby in two weeks.  No rush to reorganize the end of my semester, no phone call to Mom for help. As Adrienne talks, I gaze at the bassinet in the corner of the dining room.

They have an internal process they have to go through, to, among other things getting a DNA confirmation of paternity. And I suspect, terminate Laura’s parental rights.

“Six to eight weeks?” I say again.

Adrienne is incensed that the birth mother’s wishes are of no interest to DHS.  I’m incensed that although there is family who would adopt the baby now, when she is seven weeks old, the state is insisting on a long, drawn out, and probably expensive process which will result in the baby not being placed for at least two more months. Crucial developmental milestones are being passed; opportunities to bond are being lost. 

“Wait a minute,” I say, turning away from the bassinet.  “Who told you DHS was willing to facilitate an open adoption?”  Laura’s lawyer.  “And when exactly did he tell you this?”  The day before the hearing.

Of course. How could I have missed it? Oh, I knew Adrienne should have gone to that hearing, but I didn’t want to be pushy.  When did I get so cautious, so wimpy, so stupid? 

“We were misled, Adrienne — purposefully misled — all of us, that lawyer, you, me. I’ll bet money that DHS never had any intention of facilitating an open adoption for Laura.  When they heard you had requested time to testify; they kicked into gear. They called Laura’s lawyer and said that it wasn’t necessary, they’d be happy to cooperate with you.  It was a ploy to stop you from speaking to the judge and making a pitch for something they didn’t want to do.” 

“Yes,” says Adrienne. “My supervisor and I have spent some time discussing whether I should have gone to that hearing anyway.”

Yes, I think to myself, I’ll bet you did. 

Adrienne says we can continue to stay in the process and be the family the agency nominates for consideration by DHS, in six to eight weeks, but she would understand if we decided to call it quits.  If we did stay in, we’d also stay in the general adoption pool, still be seen as a candidate by all the other birth mothers out there. 

I say we’ll stay in. What’s to lose?  We’ll have to fish or cut bait later, but later we’ll know more, and we’ll know more about the baby, too. 

“Oh,” Adrienne adds, “DHS also told me that recently the baby has developed tremors.”   

“Tremors or seizures?” Tom asks. As a lawyer, Tom represents parents of kids poisoned by thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that used to be included in multi-dose vaccines.  He’s read reams of medical reports on children’s regression into non-verbal, seizure-intensive lives.  He’s spent hours listening to clients overwhelmed by the heartbreak of watching a child regress, and parents struggling to find answers, a cure, or at least some way of coping. He’s watched at least one marriage fall apart in the process.

“Tremors can be part of withdrawal, a process that is short-lived,” says Dr Saj Budden, a pediatrician at Legacy Emmanuel Hospital’s Child Development Rehabilitation Center. Dr Budden has been a saint, returning my many phone calls, talking freely for half an hour at a time. Even now, two months after birth, even if the baby showed no sign of heroin or meth in her blood at birth, tremors could be withdrawal.  Drugs move out of the blood much more quickly than out of fat tissue, as in the brain. She recommends we request an MRI and more information on the baby’s head’s growth rate.  She confirms that as the child grows older, we could easily see learning disabilities and hyperactivity, but she stresses that many, even most, of the children she sees function quite well in society, once they get extra help. 

After Patrick is in bed, Tom and I talk it over.  I’m relieved to hear him articulate a position pretty close to my own: he’s willing to take on some developmental delays and learning disabilities, but scared of antisocial behavior and violence. 

Dr. Budden says the biggest physical reactions are hyperactivity, short attention span, and poor impulse control.  But because the children can’t process information well, have trouble extrapolating; sometimes they can’t read the social clues. So, they can sometimes become social misfits, sometimes withdrawn, sometimes angry and violent.  “I can’t promise you that won’t happen,” she says.

Tom and I talk. And talk and talk.  Tom is done talking long before I am, but, trying to be a good husband, he sits and listens as I process.  What’s the down side of staying in? For one thing, I’m a wreck. I’m tense, worried, neglecting my responsibilities.  The English department chairman has a saying on his door that catches my eye each time I walk by: “It’s not the getting and the spending; it’s the toll that hope takes.”   

And what about Laura?  What if she thinks we’re with her for the next two months only to find out right before the committee meets that we’ve dumped her?  She would feel terrible, betrayed.  What if there is another family, Laura’s second choice, who would maybe feel fine about the risks this baby poses?  Are we unfairly cutting them out?

I call Adrienne and tell her we’re thinking of pulling out.  We’re pushed over the edge of our comfort zone on the alcohol, the drugs, Laura’s own background, and the uncertainty of DHS’s process. And we want to minimize the disappointment and hurt Laura feels at this rejection. Doesn’t it seem better to do it now than later?  Yes, says Adrienne. She’s appreciated our attitude and our willingness to go along with the process, but it really has dragged out and been uncertain and increasingly difficult, and if we want to pull out it would be better to do it now and let Laura get on with the next step.

So. I hadn’t really intended to finalize an ending, just to talk it over, but there doesn’t seem to be anything left to ponder.  “Okay,” I say. “I guess that’s what we should do.”  Then there is an awkward moment as I realize I may never speak to Adrienne again. “Well, goodbye,” I say.  “Nice to get to know you, if only over the phone.”  It’s odd not know how it will all turn out.  Adrienne says to feel free to call if we want to check in and do that kind of processing.

After I hang up the phone, I wonder what will happen to little Destiny.  Will she be all right? I hope her foster family will adopt her and she will be just fine, or, if not fine, at least mainly happy.  Maybe I should have had more courage or more strength or been more willing to take risks.  I wonder what her destiny is. I will always be a little sad that she wasn’t part of mine.

*

Two days later, I call Adrienne.  I can’t stop thinking about little Destiny.  Has she told Laura that we’re pulling out?  If not, could we wait a bit?  She hasn’t told Laura and is willing to wait.  I say please then let us stay in a while longer, even though it probably won’t work out.  Probably not, Adrienne agrees, but we can stay in as long as we like. I hang up and feel better; at least Laura won’t feel abandoned by us, just screwed by the system.  I suppose it’s easier for me too. It’s easier to let the system screw up our chance at adopting this baby than to face the fact that we said no to a baby.  Am I avoiding honest self-assessment? Am I cheating? Maybe so.  And yet, in all honesty I feel back in the game. If by some miracle it does work out that we can adopt this baby, I will want to adopt her.  Despite my belief in informed decision making, quality research, and clear thinking, I’ll want to adopt her not because of certain facts or statistics or available resources, but because of faith in the mystical side of life, the belief that some things are meant to be. In short because of her name, a name I don’t even like.     

* Note: The birthmother’s name has been changed.

Ann Whitfield Powers is currently working on a book about coming late to motherhood titled “Isn’t Forty Kind of Old for That?”  Her fiction and creative non-fiction have been published in Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers; Literary Mama; Oregon Literary Review; and other literary journals. She lives with her husband and two sons in Portland, Oregon.

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