Tonight our daughters have abandoned their seperate rooms to curl together for sleep. I give them "one chance to settle down," but already their eyes are heavy, their dark hair fanned across the pillows. As parents know, these are the moments when love constricts the heart and all the evening's chaos retreats to memory (I even believe that last part most of the time).
There is no sweeter time for reflection, and in the past months there has been plenty as my husband and I prepare to adopt another Oriental child.
The road for discovering infertility to building a family across racial lines is a long, often painful one. The pain comes not from rocking a baby with eyes unlike your own, whose little fists are darker, whose hair is a texture you've never touched before that moment that is fierce and wonderful and which makes you a parent at last.
Whatever the reasons for fertility, first you cry. You cry with disbelief and a guilt that stuns your heart. Why, people have babies every day. Even animals do, for crying out loud -- which is what you do a lot of in the beginning.
Then you look the thing squarely in the eye. I suppose I could say we had two choices: adopt or not have children. For us, the later was unthinkable and so the first many phone calls were made. Adoptive parents are all familiar with The Chosen Baby, a children's book about the Browns who adopt two blue-eyed babies with fairy-tale ease. And then there's reality.
In this country, many sociological shifts have changed the opportunities for adoption. In addition to birth control and legalize abortion, the great majority of unwed mothers now keep their babies. This is not to say there aren't children who are older (over 10), or in sibling groups, or with mild to severe handicaps who are longing for homes. There are. But each couple must face their own capabilities, and we were most comfortable with the decision to adopt a healthy Oriental child.
First came Malia ("Mary" in Hawaiian) a week before her first birthday. Malia is Thai-Caucasian with a perpetually terrific tan and more energy than a pack of puppies. She's 10 years old now and into friends, Girl Scouts, friends, school and friends. Malia also spars a lot with Melaine, who came next.
Melanie is Korean-Caucasian -- our Melanie of the soulful eyes, the tender heart. We adopted her at 9 months, nearly 6 1/2 years ago. She also like friends, dolls, other people's babies and sometimes even her older sister.
Both our daughters were born in this country and adopted through the Prince George's County Department of Social Services. We had a wonderful social worker and coincidentally the girls were in the same fine foster home. There were no adoption fees. We had tried adopting privately, but for us the risks soon proved overwhelming.
We had also sent inquiries to South America, but there the red tape and risk -- again -- were frightening, at least for us. I add "for us" because many families in the Washington area have had successful adoptions through lawyers, private agencies and from South America with the help of support groups such as F.A.C.E. (Families adopting children everywhere). At that time, however, our finances and ability to wait seemed to warrant adopting through the county.
Now we are taking somewhat different course. Our son will come from Korea and we have asked for a little boy between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. Our own ages and those of our daughters have been part of this decision, one that's been the subject of many family meetings this time around. Though their brothers' arrival is months away, the girls have filled his little bed with old stuffed animals and are demanding equal votes for names. Their father and I get to do the paper work.
This time were are adopting through the Associated Catholic Charities of Baltimore and are encourage by the process. The wait for a little boy we are told will probably be less than a year from the preliminary inquiry to his arrival. The wait for little girls is longer.
Before our son arrives and chaos has another name (this week's vote is "Daniel"), I wanted to write this article for three reasons. First, as more and more research is published on infertility, with some estimates projecting that one couple in five will face the problem, I feel urged to say that 20 percent: There are many ways to build a family.
Support and information are out here from local agencies, support groups, newsletters and agencies who place children from foreign countries (primarily Korea, Hong Kong, India and the Philippines). The second and third reasons are fast asleep at the moment. Looking down at our daughters, now crowded in a tangle of dolls and sheets, I know what prompted one mother some years ago to write:
Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, but still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute you didn't grow under my heart but in it.