IT’S A FAMILIAR scenario for millions of women. I was lying in a hospital bed. My feet were hoisted in the stirrups and my husband was squeezing my hand bloodless. There was intense physical pain. And screaming. And an urgent need for drugs. But I wasn’t having a baby. I was having an epiphany.
I was there for my fifth intrauterine insemination, an unpleasant little fertility procedure that had been prefaced by two weeks of expensive injections designed to boost my ovulatory prowess. “This doesn’t look great,” the doctor said with the cold indifference of a man who had 10 other women to impregnate before noon. He was looking over my bloodwork and ultrasounds from the day before. “It’s probably not going to work. But we can go ahead and do it if you want.” Cue the screaming.
David and I had spent a lot of time and money failing to get pregnant. After this, our only option was in-vitro fertilization, a procedure which costs around $12,000 per attempt. As much as I wanted to help my fertility doctor make his boat payments, I really couldn’t see the point. After all, our goal wasn’t pregnancy, exactly: It was parenthood. Why should we spend a small fortune on a process that might result in a child, when we could spend the same amount on one that would definitely result in a child?
That, to borrow from the gospel of Oprah, was my lightbulb moment. I yanked my feet out of the stirrups, turned to my husband and said, “Let’s adopt.”
When I was little, I remember thinking that the worst thing you could be was adopted. In soap operas, that was always the bombshell that ruined someone’s life. And if you really wanted to hurt your sister’s feelings, that’s what you threw at her: “You’re adopted.” And it’s no wonder. For decades, adoption was treated like a dirty secret. Unwed mothers were shuttled off to maternity homes far from the judging eyes of their communities. Once born, their babies were whisked away and handed over to anonymous couples, never to be seen again.
David and I soon found out, however, that most domestic agencies encourage an open adoption, which means that the birthmother and the child could remain in contact by exchanging letters or even meeting once or twice a year, a prospect that appealed to David and me much more than finding an orphan from China to call our own. We loved the idea that our child would always know where he came from and that if he had questions, the answers would only be a phone call away. No dirty little secrets. No soap opera bombshells. So we decided: It was open adoption or nothing at all.
That was July of 2006. By March 2007, we were on the verge of adopting a baby whose birthmother was a 39- year-old heroin addict who’d had no prenatal care, was taking a pharmacy’s worth of prescription drugs, and had tested positive for cocaine a month earlier. And the only reason we were considering it was because she wanted a completely closed adoption.
A lot can happen in seven months.
After interviewing several local agencies, we settled on one of the few we could find whose emphasis was domestic open adoptions. It took us about three months to undergo the “homestudy,” an exhaustive application and screening process for adoptive parents. The final step was the family book, which is what allows the birthparents to go “parent-shopping.” David and I felt good about our family book. After all, he’s an art director and I’m a writer. The damn thing could have won a Pulitzer. So we had a feeling we weren’t going to have to wait the standard six to twelve months before being chosen.
We were right. Two days after turning our family book in, we found out we’d been chosen by a young birthmother who was due in just two weeks. We were both ecstatic and horrified. That evening we took a trip into the heart of darkness, otherwise known as Babies “R” Us. We bought the necessities and then registered for everything else, a process that wasn’t nearly as much fun as it had been to register for our wedding. There’s a vast, sobering ocean of difference between crystal champagne flutes and rectal thermometers.