This story starts where many adoption stories begin, with infertility. For Diana, who works from home as an accountant in suburban Illinois, the concept dawned on her slowly. No one told her she'd never conceive -- it just didn't happen. She and her husband, Jim, had some tests done which supplied no clear answers. Fertility drugs, such as Clomid, didn't work.
They knew they could try artificial insemination or adoption. Neither seemed right. "We had friends who went through expensive, emotional fertility treatments and still had no luck. Adoption felt almost as risky; it seemed like everyone was going overseas and taking weeks off from work. We couldn't afford to do that since Jim runs his own shop," Diana says. "As for a U.S. adoption, everyone said we'd wait forever for a baby."
The popularity of open adoption was also a concern. Jim and his brother had been adopted as babies and enjoyed a happy childhood. That was during the 1960s when adoptive parents didn't communicate with a birth mother, and the arrangement suited Jim fine. He was skeptical about having things any other way.
Diana, too, was nervous: "The few agencies I looked into seemed to focus on the birth mom's feelings. Don't get me wrong -- placing a baby up for adoption is one of the most courageous and selfless things a person can do. But adoptive parents are going through a lot, too. Jim and I were feeling a sense of loss at not being able to have children of our own." For a long time, in fact, "I was worried that, if we adopted, I'd feel like a substitute mom," Diana admits.
This is a typical initial fear, says Jane Page, supervisor of adoptive services at The Cradle, a not-for-profit adoption center in Evanston, Illinois. According to Page, it's a signal that the couple is still grieving over not being able to conceive. "Often couples have to come to some acceptance before getting excited about adoption. But then when a baby is finally placed with them, they see that baby as their first choice."
One day she found herself surfing adoption sites on the Internet. She came across an agency that intrigued her. Leery, Diana checked it out through various adoption resources and the Better Business Bureau. The more Diana read, the more excited she became. "The agency had an average wait time of one year -- not nearly as bad as we had feared," she says. "We just had to travel to the state where the baby was born."
Best of all, the counselors were sensitive to the couple's hesitations about open adoption. Diana and Jim agreed to having initial contact with the birth mother and exchanging an occasional letter through the agency. But they wanted minimal contact beyond that, even if it meant waiting longer than a year to find a birth mother who agreed.
First, however, they had to complete a home study, which is required in every state before an adoption can take place. "It's odd to have to explain to strangers what your childhood was like, and to be fingerprinted and checked by the FBI," Jim says. "You can't help but think of all the biological parents who never have to go through that process."
"But for the first time I began to see the potential of a happy ending," Diana says. "That was worth all the hassle."
In most domestic adoptions these days, birth mothers select adoptive parents based on profiles they obtain from an agency. "Waiting to be chosen was nerve-racking," Diana says. "I used to look at all the profiles online myself. There would be doctors with wives who could stay home with the children, and they'd have photos of themselves on their sailboat or in front of their pool. I'd look at our little house and say, 'Jim, we're never going to get picked.'"
Waiting is the hard part of adoption. The call could come the next minute or the next year. "No one checks up on you; there aren't any status reports," Diana says. "You just wait and wonder if there will ever be an end to the waiting."
For Jim and Diana, that end came 10 months later. Ironically, a birth mother selected them for the same things Diana feared would put them out of the running. Their modest lifestyle was similar to hers, and they had many of the same interests, such as cars and horses. The birth mother felt that Diana and Jim even looked and dressed like her and the baby's biological father. Finally she, too, preferred to have little communication.
So if there's one piece of advice Diana would like to pass on to other people considering adoption, it's this: Be honest about who you are. "Don't discredit all the little things which, in someone's eyes, will make you the right parent," she says. Debra Aronson, founder of Heritage Adoption Services, an agency in Portland, Oregon, agrees. "I've seen hundreds of adoptive parents selected, and it's rarely for how much money they make," she says.
Of course, adoption itself is not cheap. Though prices vary widely, it usually costs tens of thousands of dollars. That can be reduced if people do work on their own (for instance, don't hire a lawyer who specializes in adoption, though this may increase the risk that arrangements will fall through) or go through a state's health and welfare system (often slower, but less expensive).
When Diana and Jim finally got the call, they felt overwhelmed. They hadn't prepared for anything, and the baby was due in six weeks. "It's so crazy because you wait and wait, and then it happens and you think, I'm not ready," she laughs. "Even after that call, we didn't buy anything. We were too afraid it wouldn't work out."
Diana's fear was not unreasonable. "Birth mothers can change their mind. It's something to prepare for emotionally," says Page. "Even though our agency discourages women from selecting adoptive parents until well into their third trimester, 35 percent of those who pick adoptive parents decide, in the end, to keep their baby."
Four weeks after the initial call, the birth mother went into labor, two weeks early. Diana and Jim left Illinois at midnight and drove until the next morning. The little girl was only hours old when a nurse placed her in Diana's arms. "I took one look at her and knew immediately she was ours," Diana says.
Diana and Jim named her Hayley. The new family was given a hospital room. "The staff was great," Diana says. "They treated me like I was the one who had given birth." In most states, birth mothers can sign relinquishment papers after 48 hours. Hayley's birth mom did, clearing the way for Jim and Diana to leave with their daughter. But they couldn't drive home yet -- for interstate adoptions, parents must wait for approval from their home state before crossing state lines. So Jim and Diana's first nights alone with the baby were in a hotel. "We paced the halls and took turns running out for formula or diapers," Jim says. "We were waiting, again."
"But at least this time we waited with Hayley," Diana says. "I cherish those memories of just being together." Finally, 11 days after Hayley was born, Jim and Diana were told they could go home. "Only then did I tell Jim's mom to order a crib!" Diana says.
When asked whether she'd do it again, Diana laughs and says, "Not anytime soon." Well, that's one way that adoption is just like giving birth. Then she says, "Adoption isn't easy by any means, but now I know for sure, no matter how a child comes to you, you're a mom and your love is just as deep."
Laura Stavoe Harm lives in Boise, Idaho.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2004.
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