One week later, after we had hastily thrown together a nursery and canceled any pretense of a social life, the agency called to tell us that the birthmother, whom we still hadn’t met, had changed her mind. Our disappointment turned to relief in about the time it takes to hard-boil an egg. Truthfully, we weren’t ready for that baby. Not even close.

Three months later we were picked again, this time by a couple expecting a boy in late December. Beth was in her 30s and looked every bit the modern suburban mom, save for the court-ordered ankle monitor peeking out from beneath her pants leg, the result of an identity-theft conviction. Josh spoke poignantly about the life he wanted for his son, the one he knew he couldn’t give him. But he also made no effort to conceal how much he didn’t want to be a father.

Toward the end of our first meeting, I realized that I liked Beth and Josh. Our lives were very different, and we probably would never have met otherwise, but I thought they were good people and I was honored that they had chosen us. When we said goodbye, Beth gave me a hug, her swollen belly squished between us. On our second visit, Beth brought us ultrasound pictures of the baby and referred to him as “your son.”

He was born two days before Christmas. It was late and the agency asked us to wait until the next day before coming to the hospital. The next morning passed without word. As the car seat and diaper bag sat waiting by the front door, we started to get nervous. At 1:00, they finally called and told us Beth had changed her mind. She was keeping the baby we had named Jack.

We spent the rest of the day doing things we didn’t want to do. Taking down the ultrasounds from the refrigerator. Fielding calls from people who wanted to come see the baby. Shutting the door to the nursery. That one day was worse than 24 consecutive months of negative pregnancy tests put together. Forgive me for coloring it with my morbid crayon, but it was kind of like our version of a miscarriage.

A few weeks later we met with our caseworker, a sage and unflappable woman named Fran. She listened patiently as we vented. We wanted sympathy. We wanted reassurance about open adoption. We wanted the name of Beth’s parole officer. And then, when we were finally done, she told us we’d been chosen again.

Amy was our third potential birthmother, a sweet woman with too many kids and not enough resources—financial or emotional—to care for another. The baby’s father was in prison for assaulting Amy, who was eight months pregnant when we met her. In order for us to adopt her baby, the father had to sign the adoption papers. But everyone assured us he’d cooperate because he wanted what was best for his new daughter.

The baby was born on a Saturday, but the father wanted to think about it for a while before giving his answer. Late Monday afternoon—David’s birthday—we found out the answer was no. He was getting out of prison someday and when he did, this fine specimen of fatherhood wanted to be a daddy to the baby we had named Rosemary.

That night, after settling into the numbness of my third martini, I asked David if he thought this was a sign that we shouldn’t be parents. “Maybe it’s not a sign,” he said. “Maybe it’s a test.”

Our agency placed 24 babies last year and had five birthmothers decline adoptions at the last minute. Three of those five were ours. Our faith in open adoption had evaporated. Dealing with the Chinese government seemed easier than dealing with fickle American birthparents. Even our most supportive friends were starting to suggest that maybe we should quit trying. We probably would have if the damn phone hadn’t kept ringing.

Enter birthmom number four: the heroin addict.

“Why are you telling me this?” I wailed to Fran as she laid out the ugly details.

“Because she doesn’t want any contact,” she said bluntly. Bingo. This was it. The other adoptions failed because the birthparents were too attached, a problem from which this woman obviously did not suffer. This, I convinced myself, was our baby.