The only thing I don’t have yet is a due date.
I don’t know if my baby will be 10 pounds or 20 pounds.
I have no answer when people ask me when I am going to Morocco, where I am hoping to adopt again, from the same orphanage where I adopted my son in 2012.
I don’t know what to tell my boss.
I don’t know what to tell my son’s dentist who wants to make an appointment two weeks from now.
I don’t know what to tell the nanny.
I am in the classic waiting period of the adoptive parent. There’s always a start date, the day we fill out the first application. But from there, it can take months or years before we bring our children home. There are numerous factors that can delay the process, all of which are out of our control. Laws can change, wars can break out. (Adoptions in Liberia are temporarily on hold because of the Ebola epidemic. Who could have expected that?)
Morocco suspended international adoptions in 2012, shortly after I brought my son home. It’s open again, with new rules in place, but I know that can change as quickly as it did before, with a minister’s order to stop allowing foreigners to adopt. I have friends who were waiting for a child from Russia when that country suspended international adoptions, also in 2012. Perhaps because I used to be a foreign correspondent, I am all too aware of the instability of global politics, the possibility for unexpected delays, disruptions and heartache. In domestic adoptions, birth mothers can change their minds. The aunt of a foster child can be found, suddenly, and petition for custody.
“Every timeframe in adoption is an estimate, and you have to be prepared for anything to change at any given moment, without being able to give input as the parent,” said Stephanie Francois, who is the director or international programs for Adoption-Link, my home study agency located in Oak Park, Ill. Because this is my second time around, I wasn’t as concerned about the actual home study, which is an assessment of my suitability to adopt. Banking on the fact that the government deemed me suitable once, I’ve been more anxious about the timing because I know how unpredictable it can be.
“When you are pregnant, the due date is more or less the longest you will wait for your child to arrive,” Francois said. “A pregnant women will never have to wait six extra months to give birth because of a paperwork glitch.”
My twin sister, who gave birth to four boys, had sonograms to mark the milestones in her pregnancies. I have letters from government agencies. Last month I was waiting anxiously for my approval from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. “I told myself all day not to send this e-mail,” I wrote to my social worker in late October. “And yet here I type. DCFS has everything it needs at this point, right? Is that your sense? I was thinking we were getting close last week.”
This month I am waiting on approval of my I600A petition from the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services. The application is advancing because I got a letter in the mail a few days ago with my appointment date to be fingerprinted. If I don’t show up, the letter warns me that my case will be abandoned. So you can bet I will be at the biometrics office at 8 a..m. on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
After my application to the federal government is approved, I will wait to be matched with a child in the orphanage. I’ve asked for a baby who is under 2 because I want to avoid having two toddlers in the house. I am reasonably confident that my son’s Baby Brother will indeed be a brother because most of the orphans in Morocco are boys. But I don’t know how old the baby actually will be.
My son was four months old when I brought him home to the United States. He weighed 11 pounds. Will I get another baby that small? What clothes do I need? My sister and I went through our shared pile of baby clothes and saved only clothes that were at least six months in size, gambling. I don’t know what toys to set aside because I don’t know at what stage the child will be developmentally.
Like many parents in academia, I’ve tried to plan parenthood around my breaks from teaching. I brought my son home in 2012 at the start of summer break, an ideal homecoming, but the fact is when I get the call, that is when I have to go. It could be this December. Or it could be January. Or it could be even later. I can’t tell the orphanage to wait with my baby because I’m not on break.
I’ve been dancing with my college’s human resources department over this very issue for the past few months. One of the problems is that my employer treats adoption and birth differently. If I were to give birth, I’d be eligible for up to 13 weeks paid vacation through the Family Medical Leave Act. Because I am adopting, I am only eligible for unpaid leave, which I can’t afford.
In its annual survey on the timing and costs of adoption, Adoptive Families magazine polled its readers on how long it took for them to be matched with an expectant mother, if adopting domestically, or placed with a child who was adopted internationally. (More than 1,100 readers participated in the survey.)
In 2012-13, the last year data was available, more than half of the people who responded (66 percent) waited a year or less when adopting a baby domestically through an agency. About half of the families who adopted through foster care waited less than a year from placement of the child to finalization.
People who adopt internationally waited far longer in most cases. In China, the wait for a healthy child is typically more than five years. Adopting an older child or a child with special needs is faster. Most people were matched with an older or special needs child within a month of submitting their dossier, the legal packet of documents needed for adoption in a foreign country, according to the survey. About 40 percent then waited an additional four to six months before they were able to travel to China to bring their child home. In Ukraine, about 50 percent waited less than three months from the time they submitted their dossier until they were matched. It took another three to five months until the child came home.
The U.S. State Department breaks down the waits by country in its annual report of intercountry adoptions that also discloses how many children are adopted from each country. China had the most, by far, with 2,306 out of the 7,094 adoptions in 2013. The average completion time was 257 days. El Salvador and India took the longest, with 649 and 616 days respectively.
My sister’s friend, Kerry, who is my friend by association (it’s a twin thing), has two daughters adopted from China, one in 2007 and one in 2012. Though we both adopted internationally, we had different experiences. Every country has its own rules and procedures, different restrictions on who can adopt, the type of child available for adoption. This is one reason why parents seek advice specific to the countries where they are adopting.
Still, what remains universal are the wait, the anxiety of waiting, the match (it’s a boy!) and a coming-home date.
“You can’t control the process and you just have to accept that,” Kerry told me recently.
Kerry and her husband thought they’d wait about six months for their first daughter. It ended up taking two years. In the meantime, the family was on multiple waiting lists at multiple day cares not knowing when they actually would need day care. “Our families threw us showers and so gifts sat around unused for almost two years,” she said. “The wait was hard because well-intentioned friends and family would ask us if we were still adopting from China, implying that we were likely never going to be successful.”
With their second daughter, the wait was shorter but different. “For one thing, we had a daughter that we were already parenting, so our focus was on her,” Kerry said. “Our anxiety didn’t come from an unknown wait time as much as an unknown approval time because we were attempting to adopt a specific child. Because we had a picture and information, it made things much harder. She wasn’t a child in the abstract.”
While Kerry was waiting in China to bring home her second daughter in 2012, I was in Morocco waiting to bring home my son. We were messaging each other through Facebook, both anxious, tired. “It really was nice to know that in a different corner of the world you, too, were jetlagged and trying to figure it all out,” Kerry said.
It is a different wait this time, with the second child, even if I am going through the same routine with the dinner napkins. My days are fills with the normalcy of motherhood, the unexpected delights of a new discovery with my toddler, his smiles, the fits he throws when I won’t let him play with the eggs in the refrigerator.
I indulge myself in what-ifs after he goes to bed, checking out flight possibilities just to see what would happen if, say, I got the call on Dec. 15, a randomly selected date. Then I check out flights on Dec. 16. And then Dec. 17. I do this without any indication that this will be the week in December that I get the call. I keep checking in with the owner of a flat I’ve found to rent in Morocco, making sure he knows that I can’t lock in a date, can’t put down a deposit, can’t tell him for certain, even, that I will be there in December. It might be January, I finally confessed last week. I had no reason to tell him that. I just wanted to stress the uncertainty of the process in the midst of all of the other joyful anticipations of becoming a mother again. The latter I keep in check because anything can happen with adoption, and I know this and want to be prepared.
But mostly, I just wait.
Jackie Spinner was a staff writer for The Washington Post for 14 years. She is now an assistant professor of journalism at Columbia College Chicago.
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