Are You Ready to Consider Adoption?: A Questionnaire
Why are you considering adoption? Do you and your partner have any differences between you concerning your thinking about adoption?
Evan and I always enjoyed taking long road trips together, sometimes with a favorite CD in the stereo and singing along, but more often than not, radio off, talking for hours. After a few years together, we drove a circuitous route out to Utah and back, visiting friends and vacationing at national parks, winding through canyons and vast backcountry stretches without signals.
It’s where Evan first brought up adoption as a possibility, one I hadn’t considered, but one that, as he talked across the miles, began to take shape. Evan argued that he thought we’d make good parents. Of course, as Evan’s fond of saying, you know the most about parenting up to the day your child is born, so this was all hypothetical. We imagined scenarios and issues and solutions, how we might handle what might arise, and we could see ourselves parenting, see ourselves as parents, which led to the process of adoption to provide someone to parent.
Why adoption? I’m pushing 40, and we aren’t invested in heredity, but wish to parent. Plus, as Evan put it, we have resources, and we could make a difference in someone’s life. Those who choose adoption often do not feel they have the resources (mental, emotional, or financial) or even the desire to parent. We see it as a problem to which we could provide a solution. But I’m sure we’re incredibly naïve, about this as much as about how much we think we know about parenting.
Who is the driving force for wanting to adopt? Will this driving force dynamic cause conflict in your relationship?
You see, the problem is, we have degrees and degrees in reading, in parsing out the meanings of things, of rhetoric. I’ve spent the last couple decades honing my craft at poetry, and know how loaded words can be, how fraught with meaning. Evan is studying for his LSATs, ready to immerse himself in law, knows how questions can be crafted to be leading. We have a collection of strategic board games we play regularly, teasing out the outcomes predicted by each move.
We recognize the red flags certain answers would raise. We see the traps being laid. We see you.
About the same, maybe him a bit more. No conflict.
What age child would you prefer to adopt?
What’s more haunting — a loss a newborn only comes to sense abstractly, or one for whom a toddler or older child knows a name or even a face? If I am the only woman named Mommy, is that easier or erasure? In the absence of memory, what shape will that trauma take? What space will it hold? How vigorously do we want to replace? Are we willing to absorb horrible pain outwardly directed? To be rejected as not the one the child wants? Longing, but not for us? To have this relationship, forced onto a child without their consent, be so evidenced? In other words, do we want the trauma to have a smooth, invisible (to our eyes) edge, or a visibly jagged one whose healing is not assured?
We would prefer a child no older than one year old. We are willing and, we hope, prepared to deal with an infant’s grief, but want to try and limit the trauma (the child’s and ours).
What gender would you prefer in your child? What racial heritages would you be willing to consider?
Throughout the first part of our adoption process, I dreamed repeatedly of a child I knew was ours. That dream always took one of two forms. The first was of a small black baby, of crawling age, and though clad only in a diaper, I sensed he was a boy. He had hair that stuck straight up, big happy cheeks with a smile spread mid-laugh, busily scooting around. The other dream was of a preschooler, a girl with honey-colored hair in loose, sweaty curls seen only backlit, a door swung open to the summer sunshine behind her.
Each delighted me, and I couldn’t wait to meet either of them. Those dreams ceased when we met Kinzey and soon after attended the ultrasound that revealed the baby was male. I don’t know what it means that Wyatt is neither black nor blond, though I never could have conceived of such a child.
Which of the following disabilities or risk factors are you willing to consider in an adoptive child? (Check all that apply.)
I may or may not have had too much to drink, may or may not have smoked pot, may or may not have been treated, and taken medication, for mental health issues during the pregnancy, which was not housed in my body. I myself might be considered a risk factor. Yet I did not check moderate or severe disabilities or emotional/mental disorders, epilepsy, incest, or Down’s Syndrome.
Which of these are about the limits of the child? the limits of us? of our love? What does this say about us — is it better to be honest? or are we trying to define the terms of a contract for a future we want guaranteed?
Would you be willing to consider siblings?
You know, if, during the birthmother’s ultrasound, the image reveals twins, we would be equally alarmed and delighted, would absorb the news and absorb the expansion into our plans. But otherwise, at this point, we aren’t prepared to be new parents to more than one child.
Where would you be willing to go to adopt? What level of openness are you willing to consider with birth parents?
We’ve chosen identifying open adoption with visitation. We’ve been steered toward this by the agencies and their idealized examples, so we assume our relationship with a birthmother will be like that with a cool aunt. We’ve chosen to stick within our state, in order to facilitate this, for ease of pre-adoption meetings and post-placement visitations. We’ve planned a lot of leeway, allowing for as many texts and pics and meetings as we can accommodate. We figure we’ll see each other at least a handful of times a year — sure, maybe more at first, and possibly tapering off a bit later.
What do you think is a parent’s biggest responsibility to a child?
In one episode of Season 3 of the new Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the Fab Five work with a young black lesbian in Kansas City. During one conversation, she reveals she’s estranged from her family, adoptive parents who abandoned her, rejected for her homosexuality. As she describes the pain of these continued displacements, both Evan and I are wiping our eyes.
I don’t understand this. I don’t understand this. Every child deserves unconditional love. If you can’t provide that, how could you parent? How could you?
What do you think it would feel like to grow up as an adopted child? What would your concerns be if you couldn’t parent and had to place your child for adoption? How would you feel if you found out you were adopted — what reactions or questions would you have? Do you think all adopted children wonder about their birthparents?
I read a story about a parent who forgot their infant asleep in his carseat in the backseat. The child died, stifled in the hot car.
Soon after reading that story, I got into a hot car in North Carolina. It took forever for the air conditioning to kick in and cool the car, and as I struggled to breathe in the stifling air, I pictured that infant, my mind replacing that child with Wyatt, and I got so caught up in imagining it — the tiny body overheating, sweaty in the carseat, unable to breathe – I actually passed out.
What I mean to explain by way of this anecdote is that I recognize these questions measure empathy, a quality I have in excess, and my empathy can get out of hand. I have imagined all of the scenarios presented in the questions, plus dozens of others, hundreds of times. My empathy is my greatest strength as a writer, allowing me to even write these essays, placing myself in the position of the other people in these scenes. This book wouldn’t exist without it. But empathy is also one of my weaknesses as a person and parent, paralyzing me with choices because other people’s emotions are overwhelming, and how do I balance and separate them? When should I stifle it?
What is your experience with adoption? Do you personally know an adopted person? birth parent? adoptive parent? What is your relationship to them?
My aunt’s extensive health problems left her unable to carry a pregnancy, so my cousins were both adopted. Maggie wished she’d never been born, that her birthmother had instead aborted her. She herself had more than one abortion, and ultimately aborted herself, dying by suicide. I still remember my aunt’s voice screaming across the phone my mother held as her legs lost hold, dropping to the floor as my aunt told her. My other cousin, Greg, felt his birthmother should have kept him, and fathered numerous children himself, promising to be a father long enough for the mothers to get sick of his absentee alcoholic parenting style and kick him out. Both remain cautionary tales but I don’t know what the lesson is.
What do you want your child to know about his birth family and adoption? What do you think he will want to know?
I want to keep the most detailed, fullest, deepest, messiest record of our child’s birth family and of our family’s adoption story, to provide him with everything he might want or need to know, or at least the means to contact and ask the people who have the answers I can’t give.
It’s a good thing he has a writer for a mother. It’s a terrible thing he has a writer for a mother.
Do you feel stable in your relationship as a couple without having children?
Here’s how I imagine Evan and I without a child: Evan would have completed law school. After that, he could have had his pick of jobs in North Dakota. If we had stayed there, we would have become one of the local power couples — him as an attorney or politician or law professor, and me continuing in my academic career at UND, cranking out books. We may still have moved to Minneapolis, his career here remaining much the same, though perhaps working later nights and weekends. Instead of getting a single-family house, I see us in a downtown condo, near to restaurants where we’d meet after work for late dinners. Without needing to stay near our child’s school, I would apply to more jobs and residencies and visiting writer positions.
In some ways, it sounds wonderful. In some ways, it seems unimaginable, in that I don’t want to imagine it.
Are you ready to love an adopted child as much as one you gave birth to biologically? Are you emotionally ready to become a parent?
We see you. We understand what you’re asking, what red flags you’re scanning for.
But do you ever know? Can you quantify love like that? Are you ever ready to parent? Are you ready?
about the author