I was 33 when we adopted DJ, and I thought I knew what a broken heart looked like, how it felt. I didn't know a damn thing. You know what a broken heart looks like? Like a sobbing teenager handing over a two-day-old infant she can't take care of to a couple she hopes can.T and I went out for dinner on Saturday to prepare for our meeting with Ms B tomorrow. Over Indian food we discussed adoption ethics writ small--not legislation or international treaties but the dozens of small choices we'll make this week and perhaps in the weeks ahead. We sorted through our priorities, reaffirmed our limits, brainstormed ways to communicate our values to Ms B and the agency case worker. I heard us slipping into the pattern of honest yet carefully chosen words we'll all be using on Wednesday.
Dan Savage, The Commitment
I read Dan Savage's The Kid this weekend, a little break from real life. (Because clearly the way to avoid being antsy about your own adoption process is to read about someone else's.) It is one of the most honest accounts of a domestic open adoption that I've read from an adoptive parent's perspective. Which meant I was cringing, laughing or on the verge of crying through most of it.
I once read an interview in which Savage said he and his partner were debating whether or not to adopt a second time. There were multiple reasons for their hesitancy, but one was not wanting to relive the experience of leaving the hospital with someone else's child. In his own words from The Kid, "No one warned us about the moment when you pick the baby up and walk out of the room, leaving the birth mom sobbing in her bed. We were unprepared for all the planning and check-writing and seminar-going to end in a moment of such blistering pain."
I read that section again and again before finally putting the book down. The details didn't match what happened when we picked up Puppy. It was a sidewalk, not a room; no one was sobbing outwardly. But none of that really matters. It doesn't change the fact that driving away from K with her/our baby in the back seat felt at that moment like one of the most terrible things I've done to another person. I've come across more than one parent who has considered not adopting again or going a different adoption route because the thought of being a witness to the physical relinquishment a second time is too troubling. I understand their position, and I respect them. It's because I respect them that I've struggled inwardly to understand why I am doing it again. How do I watch someone's heart break then willingly be party to it a second time?
T and I took some time last year to talk over all our different options, from foregoing siblings to pursuing a different type of adoption to saying health-be-damned and going for a bio kid. They are those crappy kinds of conversations in which there are no right answers. We went into our first adoption with some sense of the ethical trickiness, but none of how impossible it is to change the very nature of relinquishment. All the openness in the world doesn't mitigate the blistering pain, it just makes the adoptive parents witness to it. With adoption the way we did it there is no way to distance yourself. We were caught off guard by how it divides everything else into before and after.
Some people say they could never do what Savage did, what I did. They could never be the one to carry a child away from its mother. What it came down to for T and me was this: if our children are adopted, then that moment happened whether or not we were there. Whether we adopt from the state system or internationally or in a private adoption, that moment of blistering pain still happens. Maybe it's a kid being pulled into foster care, or a young parent dying of AIDS, or a father leaving a baby in a public place to be found, or a new mom leaving a hospital empty-handed. But someone's heart still broke. By virtue of adopting we are indirectly party to that; it is just a question of how many steps removed we will be.
It's more complicated, of course. This is just one tiny piece of what it means to do an infant adoption in the U.S. The reality is that there are ethical issues in all forms of adoption--they are just unique to each form. For us, working inside a culture we understand, in a system we have experienced first-hand, in the process we think allows us the most control made more sense than navigating something new and unknown. Ethically tricky, yes, but the trickiness we'd be best equipped to handle. Once we decided to adopt again, using a different form of adoption just to avoid that experience didn't seem right.
So tomorrow Ms B becomes a flesh-and-blood person to us (and us to her). It is one thing to prepare for a hypothetical situation with a hypothetical person. It is quite another to look into the face of a woman who is considering placing her child with you and have some sense of what awaits her if she does.
Whatever happens, tomorrow will be an interesting day.