WAITING (Part 1)

In a Post from 12/20/2012) Prospective adoptive mother, Lesa Quale Ferguson, writes about waiting for a placement. She and her husband Dave have since adopted their son Caleb.

By Lesa Quale Ferguson

Lesa Ferguson

I sit in my chair and pick up the loose scraps of paper. I should have a journal set aside for these notes but when the social worker from Adoption Star called, I scrambled for whatever paper I could find. Dave had just finished reading a story to our five-year-old son, Sam, and tucked him in. We never have this conversation in front of Sam. He’s too young. I wait for Dave to settle on the couch.

I ask, “Are you ready?”

He’s ready.

I shuffle through the papers nervously. I want to begin at the most difficult part: “she’s bipolar” or “she smoked crack.” I want to begin there because I want to hear Dave say, “That’s okay. The baby will be healthy. This birthmother will choose us. We’ll meet her. We’ll have a baby very soon.”

But my husband will never say those things. His reassurance will never be so unrealistic. We don’t know if the baby will be healthy. We don’t know if the birthmother will choose us. Based on previous experience, we probably won’t meet her. Even though I long for reassurance, I trust him implicitly. I know my husband’s strength and wisdom doesn’t derive from false hope for future outcomes. Often, in order to deflect my incessant need to over dramatize and my cravings for reassurance, he’ll tease me, “Tomorrow will be colder; we’ll have to work harder; And we’ll be more miserable.” His absolute refusal to bank strength in a rosy future is reassurance in itself. Strength should come from what we have here and now. I know this.

I begin to tell it to Dave just as the Social Worker told it to me. I’m a stay at home mom so I field all the calls from the agency. Every few weeks, sometimes less/sometimes more, a social worker calls with a “profiling opportunity”. A certain order to them reigns. She tells me about a birthmother who has put together an adoption plan. Her plan has to align with our grids, which we filled out as part of our homestudy. The grids speak to race, physical needs and circumstances. We have a varied grid so we are open to many situations and in the position to enjoy many “profiling opportunities.” Once we hear the profile and accept, our profile is then shown to the birthmother. Our profile book is a scrapbook of our family life along with information about our health and finances. She looks at our profile along with the profiles of eight or nine other hopeful couples; from these she chooses the couple she wants to raise her baby. We have never been chosen.

As Tom Petty sings, The waiting is the hardest part

A few months ago, a new social worker called and she bumbled a bit through the “profiling opportunity”. At that moment, I realized I had received so many of these phone calls I had absorbed the template.

And so the phone call begins…

The birthmother’s name is Chelsea, Jasmine, Dominque, Amber; she’s 32, 13, 23, 41; she’s due in 2 weeks, next month, in October, April, she’s in the delivery room; she’s Caucasian, African American, Hispanic; she lives near Albany, in Florida, Indiana, Niagara Falls; the birthfather is unknown; not the birthmother’s husband, wants nothing to do with the baby, agrees to the adoption plan, incarcerated; the birthmother is in college, has an 8th grade education, received her GED, she works at a pizza parlor; she has three children who do live with her (or don’t live with her), she has another child who is 10 months old and twins on the way…;

At this juncture, the social worker tells me the challenges and difficulties the birthmother is experiencing. Most of these challenges have already been listed as acceptable in our grid but over some of them, I get a twinge of anxiety.

…She smoked a joint on New Year’s Eve, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, smokes 4 cigarettes a day, smoked crack in her 6 month, drank heavily before she knew she was pregnant; drinks two cans of soda a day; she is on Medicaid; covered by her parents’ insurance, she has just started prenatal care in her eighth month; the baby is a girl, a boy, she doesn’t know, she doesn’t want to know; she wants a closed adoption (no contact), she wants a semi-open adoption (letters and photos through the agency only), she wants an open adoption (once or twice- a- year visits).

We have only passed on two profiling opportunities: extreme drug use and pervasive familial mental illness. Nothing about that was easy. One of the social workers reassured me with, “You do not want to look over the shoulder of your child waiting for the worst to happen.”

As I sit and tell Dave about our latest profiling opportunity, he knows I have already said yes to having our profile sent on to the birthmother. In the past, I have only delayed the process for the two difficult profiles.  We’ve discussed and considered endlessly so we are on the same page. Our nighttime talk serves to keep him apprised.

I try not to take the fact that we haven’t been chosen personally. But how could it not be personal? The birthmothers must not be choosing us based on our personal history. Every couple months, I arrive at the office of Missy, our primary social worker and I lament: I’m too old; we don’t make enough money; we have a biological son; I offended the birthmother social worker (considering we had never actually met, this was a bit of a stretch).

Missy has propped me up, told me that often families with biological children have to wait longer. She has repeated the Tom Petty lyric, the waiting is the hardest part, so often I think she must tour with him.

After I finish telling Dave about this profile, he asks a few questions but eventually shrugs and says, “we’ll see,” and turns on the TV.

I attempt to watch with him but my imagination has been fired up. I’ve been given just enough information to have this latest birthmother spring to life like a character in a novel. I have to remind myself that whatever character emerges, she is fiction. Whoever this birthmother turns out to be, I can’t create her from the words of a social worker.

I hear Sam at the top of the stairs, “I’m scared.”

I bolt up to get him. It’s selfish but I am relieved he’s up, I need comfort too. Sam is my reassurance, my strength in the present. It came as a surprise to me that Sam is a liability in the adoption process. If I were a birthmother, I would want an older brother for my child, especially a Sam. I realize I’m ridiculously partial but it got me thinking, “What if I were the birthmother; who would I choose?”  A couple weeks ago, I called and asked a social worker to send me the paperwork the birthmothers fill out for their adoption plans. I decided to locate a time in my life when having a baby would have been exceedingly difficult. And then I used those circumstances and I filled out the forms. I wrote a profile just as a social worker might.

Sam and I stand at the threshold of his bedroom, “I think there is a monster under my bed. Look at the shadow.”

I peer in the darkness and a shadow emerges from under his bed. I turn on the light.

“Poof, it’s gone,” I say.

I pick him up.

“Are monsters pretend life or real life?” I ask.

“Pretend life, but the shadow is real life.”

I have created two bins for him to sort the world: real life and pretend life. I’m happy to play Frankenstein with him but I don’t want him to think we’ll find Frankenstein under the bed.  “Shadows can be scary because we don’t know what is making them. But mostly it is just a trick of the light.”

We look under the bed: only dust bunnies. I flip off the light. We snuggle into bed and I wait to hear the easy rhythm of his breathing. I am glad for the dark room and the chance to visit the shadows that lurk in my head. I let my imagination go back to my past…

Read Waiting Part 2