A couple weeks ago, I was telling an acquaintance about the infant boy with cleft lip who Big Papa and I visited last fall and talking about our decision not to pursue adopting him when we discovered that he also had significant cognitive challenges. After I finished my story she said to me “Well, at least you had a choice.”
I didn’t sleep well that night. The whole “you had a choice” thing really stuck in my craw and I’ve been wrestling with it ever since. Yes, Big Papa and I had the luxury, if you will, to say “yay” or “nay” about whether or not we would parent this kid. Not that it was an easy decision; it was heart wrenching and I still grieve about it.
As an “older” (45+ in both our cases) recently married couple, our choices had their limits. Since we are adopting internationally we are able to specify whether we want a boy or girl and an age range for the child we would adopt (obviously with a domestic infant adoption, you get what you get). We are also able to check off a list of medical conditions that we are “ok” with: cleft, clubfoot, rickets, and so on.
Here’s where we do not have a choice:
Country: Most countries set upper age limits and marriage requirements. China was out because you couldn’t apply until you’d been married two years, but you couldn’t be over fifty. By the time we’d have been married two years, I’d be fifty. India stipulates that the age of the husband and wife, combined, cannot be greater than 90. Haiti requires ten years of marriage. On and on it goes. Our “short list” of countries was very short.
Birth mother’s health: Big Papa and I cannot influence whether the birthmother drinks, smokes or eats well during her pregnancy.
Kid’s genetics and family background: We can’t choose our kid’s biological parents…how smart they are, what their unique abilities are or their propensity for chronic disease.
Orphanage care: While the orphanages in Armenia are good in comparison to most and the care excellent, it is still an orphanage. Most children in orphanage care are delayed in development one month for every three months spent there. We have no control over how the child we’ll adopt is cared for from the time of his birth until we bring him home.
Picking our kid: Adoption is not like shopping at the supermarket. We are not able to weigh the merits of ‘Kid A’ against ‘Kid B.’ We are allowed one referral at a time. Of course, in some countries, prospective adoptive parents aren’t even allowed to say no to a referral, at least not if they want to bring home a kid at all. Someone else half the world away (in some cases whom you’ve never met) will choose our child for us and send us his information.
When we become parents: I will not have the nine-months-and-we’re-parents window. I am not able to say to my husband, “Hey, wanna make a baby-NOW.” We started this process three years ago (with our home study). That’s one loooong pregnancy!
It’s true that folks who birth their kids experience a whole truckload of unpredictable outcomes too. Down Syndrome, Autism, birth defects, difficult pregnancies, challenging births, miscarriage, stillbirths and—just like adoptive parents—infertility. The road from coupledom to parenthood isn’t always smooth.
That said most adoptive parents come to the table with limited options, having experienced infertility or another significant reason which made biological pregnancy impossible. Choice in adoption is something of an oxymoron because many decisions are made for you. And sometimes, much of the time, control is completely out of your hands.