by Lisa Ritter Starr
She takes pregnancy tests. Makes doctor appointments. Gives blood samples. Undergoes the routine tests. Finally, the two of you make the announcement to friends and family, but not quite the announcement you had always dreamed: "We're going to adopt a baby."
Now that you've applied to an adoption agency or found a birth mother, it's official: You are expecting. Right? In many ways, the process of adopting is like that of going through a pregnancy. Either way, you're expecting a baby. You buy a crib. Have a baby shower. Flip through parenting magazines. Discuss all the major initial decisions: disposable or cloth, bottle or breast, at-home or daycare. So, does it really matter whether or not you are pregnant?
Of course it matters. Pregnancy is something many women look forward to as part of a major life goal: to have a family of their own. Whether or not they look forward to the process, it's part of the deal when you want to raise children.
At least, it is for most. What about when things don't work out according to plan?
Since Amy was 18 years old, she wanted to be a mom. Now 30, Amy and her husband, Jeremy, 32, moved back to her hometown in central Wisconsin from the Twin Cities because they believed it was a better environment for raising a family. In a major career decision, Amy became a nurse practitioner instead of a doctor so that she would have more time with her kids. The couple even moved into Amy's parents' neighborhood, so that extended family (and childcare) would be readily accessible.
"We planned our life, as all people do, and the plan didn't go according to plan," says Amy on what led them to go through the process of adoption. Three years after deciding to start their family, Amy and Jeremy are currently part of the waiting pool of Lutheran Social Service's domestic infant adoption program in Wisconsin.
For Amy, the waiting is not necessarily the hardest part. Rather, it is the lack of control over a process she never thought she would undertake. "Not having any control whatsoever of how your family might build," says Amy, is the couple's current challenge. Along the way, however, Amy asserts that they have been through more than that.
Deciding on an agency was relatively easy. Once settled in Amy's small hometown, there wasn't much choice. There were three agencies in town: one served birth mothers only, one placed only three infants per year, and the third, Lutheran Social Service (LSS), placed about a dozen babies each year. In order to increase their odds of having a family, they chose LSS.
Amy and Jeremy entered the domestic infant program, which means they are open to any American child under the age of three. The couple also particularly liked the idea of open adoption, a trend that LSS tends to encourage. Richard Smith, Program Director of the LSS adoption program in Minneapolis, Minnesota, agrees with the Wisconsin service's philosophy.
Of open adoption, Smith says LSS of Minnesota is "convinced that it is by far the healthiest form of adoption," and this includes all parties involved - birth family, adoptive family, and the children of adoption. He adds that their program has encouraged open adoption for years, over which time the philosophy of openness has been consistently reinforced.
Amy says she liked that her program at LSS makes information readily available. In a program that encourages openness, there isn't the shadiness that can infiltrate closed adoption. Even in international adoption, you may be dealing with the complexity of other countries' laws and possibly partic
ipating in what we would think of as "baby-buying." Amy felt she was able to retrieve information when she needed it and knew that, with a policy of openness and an eventual "open adoption contract," this would always be the case.
Amy and Jeremy's place in their program resulted only after several, often grueling stages of application to the agency. They completed "volumes of paperwork," a thorough and "pretty strenuous" investigation of their backgrounds, a three-hour screening interview, five sessions of classes, a homestudy, and their portfolio, a 24-page photo summary of their lives which birth mothers use to choose prospective parents.
Simply applying to the agency, however, was not the first step. Because they place a relatively small number of children each year, LSS in Wisconsin has what is loosely termed a "baby lottery." Before couples do anything else, they must perform a sort of pre-application stage that involves filling out basic contact information and submitting it during the agency's open application period.
According to Amy, it isn't an application or pre-screening at all, but rather putting "your name in a hat." From this initial pool, LSS performs a completely random selection using the previous year's infant placement number, to arrive at a similar number of applicants for next year's program. For example, if LSS placed 13 children in 2002, they would select 13 couples for the application process for 2003.
So now, Amy and Jeremy could say they are officially expecting a baby. Right? Not necessarily. For one, in their particular program, the average wait for a baby is twice that of the typical duration of pregnancy. And it could take more or less time. The shortest wait a couple had in this program was six days, and the longest was five years.
Secondly, if and when they are chosen by a birth mother, the adoption cannot take place until the baby is born. At that time, the birth mother is not legally required to choose adoption. She could take days or weeks to make a decision, which also means she could choose not to go through with it at all.
Even at four months in the waiting pool, Amy is reluctant to expect that they will ever get a baby. She and her husband are willing to wait for years if that is what it takes, but right now they are not counting on anything.
"We always thought we would adopt," says Amy of her plans for a family. When she was growing up, Amy's family took in foster children, and Jeremy had siblings, biologically related through their mother, who were adopted by Jeremy's father. Still, they always planned to have at least one biological child of their own.
Amy and Jeremy are still waiting for the dream of a family to come true. Are they "expecting?" According to Amy, not really. After all they have been through, the feeling of expectation is one of the only things left under their control. Besides, they have a beautiful house on the Wisconsin river, good jobs, nearby family, and friends.
What more could they expect?
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