Settle in, get yourself something to drink. It's a long one.
I am fully committed to my adoption. It is the single most important thing (next to my current family) in my life. If for some reason I couldn't do it, I would be devastated.
I have found, as many of you wise women mentioned after the Six Months Post, that these stages repeat themselves. So, here they are again, with a few additions. I am having trouble differentiating between what may be typical stages of grief, and what may be typical stages of waiting during an international adoption. If you are new to this blog, and want to know what we are grieving about, just search this blog with the word 'Chris.'
You guys don't need the Kubler-Ross graph again do you? I didn't think so.
Here are what I think have been my stages of waiting . It has been six fifteen months since we applied to adopt two small children from Ethiopia. As of January 10th, we have been 'officially waiting' for one full year ( if you don't know, that means our Dossier was officially accepted by our adoption agency a year ago Saturday).
These are my thoughts of how it has been for me. In no way am I trying to project or assume that others have had the same experience. Not everyone is a resident of Crazytown.
First Stage of Waiting: RELIEF. Relief that you and your husband have finally landed on the same page regarding your family building. (Page 93 right honey?) You agree on the country. You agree on the agency.You agree to the expense.
Second Stage: JOY. Joy overwhelms you. There is a light (two lights) at the end of a long, nine year tunnel. You have a spring in your step. The excitement is palpable. You can go to a playground without weeping. You become a member of a club that has up until now excluded you. You can talk about preschool and even attend community school board meetings without fear of someone carrying you out in a straight-jacket. You skim the paper to see just what is the name or number of that education account you can start? Is it a 503k or something? You weigh the benefits of trundle vs bunk? You childproof. You tell EVERYONE you know about your plans.
Third Stage: What I would like to refer to as the WIN/WIN/NAIVETE/MELISSA FAYE GREENE STAGE. You have just finished,"There is No Me Without You." You think, not only I am helping myself, but I am helping Africa. We want kids, these orphans need families. They do. They absolutely need help. There are millions of orphans that need homes. There are families that have been decimated by AIDS and other diseases. There are so many parentless children. It is a win win situation. You get your family, they get a family.
Fourth Stage: HARSH REALITY/ ETHICAL QUESTIONING. A lot of these children up for adoption are not necessarily orphans. In fact a lot of them have TWO parents, a mom and a dad. They have siblings. They are being relinquished because their family can no longer afford to feed them. They will be, by your adopting them, taken from their country, their family and the only lives they have ever known. Their losses will be enormous. This is where it starts to get tricky. This is where you start wrestling a lot. " If I really cared about Ethiopia, I would take these thousands of dollars in adoption fees and bring them immediately to the organization that would do everything in their power to preserve this Ethiopian family." These thousands of dollars could keep many Ethiopian families intact. Which brings me to my next stage...
Fifth Stage: The I AM A SELFISH ASSHOLE. My white privileged need of having a family is much stronger than my need to help Ethiopia. My mothering hormones are not going to be dissipated by my concern for struggling Africans. I am an asshole.
Sixth Stage: BARGAINING. I am an asshole, but I agree to change my need. This is when, if you are me, you announce to your husband one morning, " I think that we should adopt a twelve year old from Ethiopia instead. Our neighbor is twelve and they can hang out together. Our child can go right into school. We will make sure that she is in actuality a true orphan, an only child, and HIV positive. We have good health insurance ."
This is when your husband starts to wish he never met you. Your husband who likes, more than anything, to make a decision and stick with it. Your husband starts some questioning of his own,"Who is this Crazy person and why did I ever marry her?"
Seventh Stage: OUTRAGE. Why doesn't everyone else know how bad things are around the world? Why aren't people doing more? Why is Haiti in the shitter and no one cares? Is Don Cheadle getting through to anyone? Unfortunately this outrage turns into a self-righteousness and a judgemental attitude, which sends me back down spiraling into...
Eighth Stage: GUILT. I feel guilty. I feel guilty for judging. I feel guilty for adopting. I feel guilty for eating, you name it...I feel guilty.
Ninth Stage: RESOLVE. I will do more. I will bring awareness. I will make a difference. I will do something. I will start a project that will help.
Tenth Stage: RENEWED OPTIMISM. It's okay. I will continue. I will call today and give our agency the third payment they have been asking for. I will continue my reading. I will learn more about parenting. I will do my best to be a mother to these two children. I will give it everything that I have. I will continue to wrestle. I will try to do what is best. I will look for answers.
Eleventh Stage: DEPRESSION. This one started near Thanksgiving, so I am assuming it is a 'First holiday without a loved one' kind of thing, and not a 'Yet another holiday without children' kind of thing, but maybe it is both. Whatever it is, it is not fun. Since losing his mom, the best way I can describe my husband is that he has been dressed in a soaking wet, fur coat of grief. The coat, thankfully is drying, and I think he may be ready to take it off, and hang it up. He has turned a corner, and things are getting better every day. Depression, adoption wise, stems from reading articles like this. I don't know about you but "The Lie We Love," article put a bit of a damper on things for me. Laura found a rebuttal to this article which helps. This depression stage bleeds into the next stage...
Twelfth Stage: DOUBT. Am I doing the right thing? How can I be sure that my adoption is completely ethical? This for me, also included (for the first time) doubt that I had chosen the right adoption agency. I am still not sure about this one. My agency has been working in Ethiopia a long time, and I am fairly confident that they operate in an ethical manner. But really, how would I know? I haven't been to Ethiopia yet. I am not really sure what goes on there. I know the program has changed dramatically in the past year. So many more people are choosing Ethiopia. There are more agencies, more demand for children, more room for corruption. Hence...doubts.
Thirteenth Stage: DOUBT. Am I too...(insert any of these adjectives here) old, dejected, cynical, impatient, selfish etc. to adopt at all ? Doubt in oneself and one's abilities (this too, may be related to grief stemming directly from a depressed mood).
Fourteenth Stage: DOUBT. DOUBT THAT IT WILL EVER HAPPEN! Lots of people we know who applied well after we did, have received their proposals, traveled, and are now happily ensconced with their new families. Is this just something else that works out for everyone else except us? We are definitely in the bleachers watching instead of playing on the field. Will we only be spectators? I have to say that I definitely have days where I believe that this may not happen for us. We will not get to adopt two siblings from Ethiopia. It feels precarious. It is the same feeling I have had before, when I was newly pregnant. Our four pregnancies didn't work out, so why on earth did I think this would? The stage also involves ENVY, but envy is so yucky, let's not give it its own stage.
Fifteenth Stage: DISILLUSIONMENT or THINGS I WISH I HAD THOUGHT ABOUT BEFORE: This is almost the same as Stage Four: HARSH REALITY/ ETHICAL QUESTIONING, but worse. This is disillusionment with the whole process. This is when all of your warm and fuzzy feelings about adoption don't feel warm and fuzzy anymore. Instead they feel messy and worrisome. Some of the things I wish that I had known about beforehand but was too naive to think about are...
1. DEATH. Sometimes your referred child dies. I didn't really think about this a year ago. It seemed to me that if you adopted these children, they would come to America and eventually become healthier than they have ever been. The truth is, some of these kids don't make it. I have stumbled on more than one blog where the family's referred child has died. I am usually rendered completely incapable of forming any sort of supportive comment when I read this. If this has happened to you, and you are reading this, I am so very sorry for your loss. What a terrible thing to go through. You have lost a child. How do you get over that? Maybe you never even met that child. Doesn't matter. I never met the kids I was pregnant with and I mourn them. I am sorry, and I am sorry if I never said anything to you.
A personal note here to my friends and family...
If I am lucky enough to receive a proposal and accept the referral of two small children from Ethiopia, please don't be offended if I don't show you their pictures right away. Legally, I can't publish their pictures until we are through court, but I could send them to you privately. If I don't do this right away, please don't feel angry or left out. The truth is, I am afraid they might die before I meet them. I don't want you to know their faces too, and open yourself up to losing a nephew, playmate, or grand daughter. Does that sound crazy?
Something else I didn't think much about a year ago...
2. Disruption. I know a bit about this from foster parent training, but for some reason I didn't expect it in an international adoption. Sometimes things don't work out and the adoption disrupts. Here is a link to a brave and honest woman who has written about this. Her son was from Haiti.
Okay. This is getting a little dark and depressing huh? I think it is time to tell you about my favorite stage yet!!
Sixteenth Stage:EXTREME EXHILARATION!!!! It is similar to the Second Stage: JOY, but much, much better. A couple of weeks ago, I was home with Steven and the dogs. All of the sudden I thought, "This is actually going to happen! We are going to have children!! There will be children here, in our house, SOON!" I was filled with joy. I was grinning like an idiot. My eyebrows reached landmark status as they lifted to allow for the stars in my eyes to shine fully.
It lasted exactly 90 minutes and now I think I may have accidentally ingested MSG from Chinese food. NONETHELESS, There was JOY. MSG or not there was JOY!
Back to some things that I wish I had thought about...
3. Don't assume that your social worker knows anything about you, especially if you use two separate agencies for your adoption; one for your home study, and one for your placement. Try to communicate with these people at each agency on the phone, or preferably in person. Don't assume that everyone has read your file, knows who you are, and (in my case) gets your sense of humor. That is all I am going to say about that.
4. Folks say no to their proposals. I had lofty ideas about this. The reality is that at times people you know may turn down a proposal. They say no. Sometimes their reasons will seem utterly ridiculous and shallow to you. Other times you will catch your breath and think, "I am not sure if I could have said yes either." I had ideas in the beginning of this process that were quite lovely. I used to believe that everyone gets the child they are supposed to have. If that is true, how can a family turn down a referral for any reason? Does that mean that the first child was the wrong child? Does that mean that they inherently knew that their child was not this first proposal but the next one? This really shakes up your romantic, 'it was destined', kind of thoughts.
Other times you will feel the presence of something larger than life. You will see a child placed in a family, and absolutely believe that this was their child. Your lofty ideals will be restored as you witness a bond so deep, that it is hard to fathom.
Maybe when we receive our proposal I will think, "Oh, of course, these are our children". But part of me thinks that it is just lists, and waiting dates, and who's next. Maybe it isn't a magical match. Now if our kids are presented to us and they happen to have the names we chose nine years ago for our non-existent biological children, I will print up this post and eat it.
I'm not saying there shouldn't be magical, lofty thinking. I have been wearing these bracelets on my wrist...
What do you think I have determined they represent ? When one broke off I thought,"Our child has died." I promptly got a new one and have not taken them off. I lost one on our wedding anniversary. It was dark out and I couldn't find it. I went out the next morning, found it, and put it back on. Maybe they will break off when our kids come into care, or when their birth mother dies or the day we learn about them. See, romantic, superstitious, wishful, optimistic, interconnectedness kind of thinking. I have it. I want to believe.
Imagine this... Steven and I go to Santa Fe. We stop for a coffee at the place we got married. While we are there, Kristina calls us. She says, I have your proposal for you. Nathaniel and Lucy have lost both of their parents to Aids. Their neighbors brought them into care. They are healthy. Nathaniel was born on (insert date of wedding anniversary, Steven's birthday, etc). Lucy was born on (insert day Chris died of brain cancer, day you first met Steven, your birthday etc.). Lofty right? Does everyone else look for signs that the children they adopt are the children they are supposed to adopt? Does that happen? Oh, and did I mention that Nate and Lucy's concerned neighbors speak fluent English and are well aware that they will, most likely, never see these children again and that they are okay with that?
In reality our kids may come from an intact family. They may have brothers and sisters who will be left behind in Ethiopia. There is nothing romantic about that. This is devastating. I think about this a lot. I see kids here dealing with this, and it is hard, very hard.
Is it just me or does everyone else think that these children are absolutely remarkable? Beautiful resilient Habesha children, what an extreme privilege it is to know them. I have met about sixty Ethiopian children. I feel like I would be extremely lucky to raise any one of them.
Where was I ? Have I lost you? Sorry if this seems self indulgent, but I am working through some things and hopeful that I am not alone, and or that I can help someone learn something about what happens as you delve into an international adoption. It is messy, and beautiful, and scary and wonderful.
Here is another good one...
Seventeenth Stage: UNEXPECTED, RENEWED FAITH IN HUMANITY. Where have you people been all my life? There is something special about the adoption community. I haven't pinpointed it yet, but this is what I think: I think it takes a rare individual to open up their heart to a child they did not give birth to, or who doesn't have their genetic makeup. It is a huge leap of faith to enter into an adoption triad. It takes someone with a big heart, I think, and a little sense of adventure. I am so grateful to have met you people. I mean it. You are good people. You inspire me. You are caring, and fun, and smart, and think about others before yourself. Nice to meet you. I am honored to be your friend. Thank you for helping me through a very difficult time. Thanks for your continued honesty about how it went/is going for you. Okay, group hug!
What stage am I in now?
Eighteenth Stage: A JOYFUL UNEASINESS. This feels right. I am filled with joy and excitement but also a little uneasiness. Maybe with our proposal the uneasiness will be gone but in fact, I think that it is important to always feel uneasy. Uneasy may not be the right word. Adoption is complicated. Just being involved in one as a potential adoptive parent is complicated. The people who are really going through something are the birth families, obviously. Their losses are a million times more difficult and devastating. I realize that I have no problems. I have had lunch, turned the heat up, and settled in with my computer to spill my guts. Who cares. Get a life right? Carry some wood, watch your family die, and give up your baby because you can't feed him. Then we will talk. I think it is important for me, even if I am lucky enough to adopt two Habesha children, to always be questioning. It is important to be observant over there, and to see what agencies are doing, and to read message boards, and to help those who come after, and to make sure, as much as I can, that my 'children's story' is true, and that my adoption is ethical.
Today things seem a little bit precarious, and a lotta bit exciting. In one year we have moved from the 103rd place in line, to the 3rd place in line. We are okay. We are excited. We want this more than anything. We are ready. I long to be a mother. I long for a family.
I can't wait to see my husband as a father. I can't wait for my parents to meet their first grandson. I can't wait to sing someone to sleep, to make someone laugh, and to bandage a skinned knee. I can't wait to show someone the beach, and the mountains, and a rain storm. I can't wait to explain the benefits of two dogs versus one. I can't wait to make chocolate chip cookies with two small Habesha children.
I am ready for my joyful, uneasy, happy ending.
* Some Newbee Links:
Ethiopia Adoption Agency review
Children's Home Society and Family Services Online Forum